Huskies write one more Paige in OT

HOUGHTON – Coach Kim Cameron may not like it, but at this point in the season, the Michigan Tech women’s basketball team’s identity is woven inseparably with its ability to absorb bad stretches of basketball before stepping up at the critical juncture.

And if Cameron and her players do not love the path, they most certainly loved Wednesday’s GLIAC quarterfinal result.

The Huskies absorbed a miserable first half and sluggish beginning to the second before overcoming a seven-point deficit in the final seven minutes to force overtime against visiting Saginaw Valley as Jillian Ritchie converted an offensive-rebound putback with six seconds remaining in regulation.

A cavalcade of critical plays from Dani Blake, MacKenzie Perttu, Kate Glodowski and Ritchie in overtime were enough for the Huskies to escape with a 69-63 win and book a date Saturday with Northern Michigan in Detroit for the GLIAC semifinals.

“We got it done,” Ritchie said. “We only needed to win by one, just need a win to advance. We got it done.”

“That is a lot of emotion in 45 minutes,” Tech senior Paige Albi added. “That was kind of a blur.”

The Huskies showed superior will in overtime, earning four trips to the free throw line to go with four offensive rebounds.

That spark came from an unusual source, as Albi fouled out with an offensive foul 10 seconds into the extra period – after putting up 19 points and 13 rebounds in regulation – and the team rallied around the senior’s emotional exit from her last ever game at the SDC.

“Paige got us into the overtime period,” Cameron said. “And when she fouled out and is just sitting there with this helpless look, I made the team look at her. From that point on I think they were playing with extended purpose.”

“I was just telling them ‘finish it strong, I know you guys can do it,'” Albi added. “I could see it in their faces, we were not going to lose this game.”

“The last game is a really scary thought, I don’t want it to come anytime soon. So we need urgency any way we can get it.”

Blake put the Huskies up immediately after Albi’s words with an old-fashioned three-point play on quick drive to the rim.

Blake then benefitted from consecutive offensive rebounds from Perttu and Glodowski to earn two more free throws, before a Perttu layup at the end of the shot clock gave Tech a five-point lead with 2:28 to play.

Consecutive buckets at the hoop from Saginaw’s Kayla Womack cut the Tech lead to one, but the Huskies were able to drain 78 seconds off the clock – thanks to two more offensive rebounds from Perttu and Ritchie – before Ritchie swished a dagger three off a Perttu drive-and-kick to make it a two-possession game. Four made free throws from Perttu and Glodowski sealed it from there.

“To give ourselves four extra chances is the difference,” Cameron said. “That is toughness. That is heart, grit, that is the stuff that is going to win you playoff games.”

Ritchie’s game-winning three and game-tying layup were all the more impressive for the events that preceded it.

The junior forward did not play in the first half, with Cameron preferring Emily Harrison, Glodowski and Taylor Stippel at the forward spots. Ritchie also air-balled a three and committed a crucial turnover in the final three minutes of regulation. She has shot just 33 percent from the field this season.

No matter though. She stepped up when Albi, Glodowski and the rest of the seniors needed her to continues their seasons.

“I am a confident shooter,” Ritchie said. “It hasn’t always worked out this year, but I’ll step up and take that shot if it’s open. So happy it worked out.”

The second half heroics were made necessary by a first half performance that has become a little too common for Tech’s liking.

The Huskies shot just 27 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and committed 11 turnovers in the first half. Tech commits just 11.9 turnovers per game this season.

Only seven points and 12 rebounds from Albi kept the Huskies afloat as they trailed 25-22 at intermission.

“That’s why coach Cameron recruited me,” Albi said. “In AAU I was always a scrappy player just doing whatever I could to help the team.”

“In general we need to have better starts from everybody,” Cameron added. “We can’t keep having 20-point halves.”

The second half didn’t start much better than the first, with the Cardinals building their lead to 47-40 with 7:03 remaining.

Cameron put on a full-court press from there though – a rarity this season – and the Huskies turned the tempo in their favor with some quick shots from Saginaw and seven points from Albi and six points from Blake in the final stretch.

“Those last five minutes we wanted to be the asserter, we wanted to put the pressure on them,” Albi said. “I have loved implementing that press. It’s kind of like who let the dogs out.”

Ritchie then put the game into overtime with a layup off Perttu’s miss at the rim.

“We needed that extra play and the ball just fell into my lap and I was there to put it back up,” Ritchie said.