MARQUETTE - Momentum is a lot like the air - you can't see it, it's barely measurable, but when it's not there you miss it like the dickens.
At least it's not absolutely required to win basketball games, unlike air is to sustaining life.
But momentum sure can come in handy like it did for the Northern Michigan University women's team down the stretch of a critical 67-59 victory over Michigan Tech at the Berry Events Center on Thursday night.
Northern Michigan University junior Alyssa Colla, left, drives toward the basket past Michigan Tech University sophomore Danielle Blake, right, Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Colla surpassed the 1,000 point mark for her collegiate career Thursday, finishing with 25 points in the victory over the Huskies. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"It's amazing how much stuff was going on with this game tonight," Wildcats coach Troy Mattson said about the final game of the regular season.
"If we win, we've got a shot at the No. 2 seed in the (GLIAC postseason) tournament, we'll probably clinch a berth in the national tournament, and then on top of that, you're playing your main rival.
"It's wasn't easy to keep the nerves under control, but the girls know what needs to be done and how to do it."
In addition to that, NMU junior guard Alyssa Colla reached the 1,000-point career scoring mark less than three minutes into the game. She finished with a game-high 25 points to stand at 1,021.
Northern had the first burst of momentum, building first-half leads of 16 points several times, including 36-20 at the break.
"We knew we outsized them at every position and we were able to get a lot of 1-on-1 stuff, and if we needed to, kick it out for shots," Colla said about the first half.
The Huskies were hamstrung after top rebounder and second-leading scorer, 6-foot sophomore Danielle Blake, had to sit the final 11:58 of the first half when she picked up her second foul. Tech was already down 18-11 then.
"We can't afford to fall way behind early the way that we've done multiple times this year," MTU coach Kim Cameron said.
Northern dominated the first-half glass, 36-20, while making nearly 60 percent of its shots (13 of 22).
Blake was reinserted to start the second half and sparked a quick change in momentum, hitting a pair of layups in the first 90 seconds before anybody else on either team scored a point.
NMU's lead was down to 36-24 and it shrunk to seven points when Blake added a jumper with 16:21 to go to culminate a 11-4 Tech spurt to start the half.
"We knew they were going to come out ready to play after halftime," Colla said. "They show a lot of toughness."
The game then settled into a standoff, with the Wildcats' lead between six and 13 points as each offense looked out of kilter, partly due to tough defense but also because of some ill-conceived shots.
NMU caught its breath first with around four minutes remaining when it began an 8-0 run to reassert itself with a 60-44 lead with 2:36 to go. Colla scored six points in the streak.
"It seemed like the timeout we had just let us slow down, then get ready to attack when we could," Colla said of a stoppage in play just before the streak began.
The 'Cats made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to ice it.
Junior Abbey DeBruin added 21 points and senior Annie Rubendunst 10 points to the winning effort as each pulled down seven rebounds. Sophomore teammate Nea Makela didn't score, but grabbed a game-high eight boards.
Senior Paige Albi paced the Huskies with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Blake added 16 points despite missing the first-half stretch and sophomore Mackenzie Perttu had 11 points and three steals.