WNIT Championship: MU Women 81, Michigan State 66
EAST LANSING. Mich. (AP) -- Erin Monfre hit five 3-pointers off the bench and jumped a bit higher with each swish.
As she stretched toward the heavens, she felt her late mother, Maureen, reach down to celebrate a WNIT championship.
"My mom was right there with me," Monfre said after Saturday's 81-66 win over Michigan State. "From the time she passed away (from cancer) in late January, I could hear her. I give her all the credit."
Not all of it. Monfre praised her teammates for setting airtight screens on the perimeter. But when a player who was averaging 2.7 points a game scores 15 in the biggest game of her career, tears of joy seemed appropriate.
"That kid has been through a lot," Golden Eagles coach Terri Mitchell said as the emotion overcame her. "Maureen was looking down, saying, 'She finally got her feet straight.' Her dad was here. And to see the embrace they had was one great moment."
There were others for Marquette (21-14), but none bigger than a 23-2 surge in the opening minutes and 46 points from three guards.
Angel Robinson led the winners with 16 points. Tournament MVP Krystal Ellis had 15 against the Spartans and averaged 23.2 in her last five games, including 40 at Kentucky.
"We had extra motivation," Ellis said of a third road assignment and Monfre's moment. "Maybe Erin had an angel with her. But when you have a hot shooter like that, you can't do anything but smile about it."
Freshman Kalisha Keane led all scorers with a career-high 24 points for the Spartans (23-14). Allyssa DeHaan added 11 points and five blocked shots.
Mia Johnson also had 11 points for Michigan State (23-14) but was just 3-for-15 from the field and 1-for-8 from long range.
"You could see the difference in athleticism out there," coach Suzy Merchant said. "Our best offensive team couldn't get a stop. And our best defensive team couldn't put it in the basket. But give a lot of credit to Marquette."
Trailing 7-6, the Golden Eagles took control with a perimeter barrage and precision passing to go up 29-9. The Spartans made their best run late in the first half and cut the deficit to 41-30 with 10 straight points.
Monfre's third wide-open 3 gave her team a 45-33 halftime lead, thanks to 54.5-percent accuracy from the field and terrific transition offense. Michigan State never got closer than 10 points again, as Marquette rebuilt its cushion and coasted home with reserves.
"I thought (Ellis) was one of the best guards we've faced all year," Merchant said. "You can't send her left. You can't send her right. She can hit pull-ups and 3s, and she can create. When she gave it up, the other players hit shots."
The Golden Eagles, who lost five of their last eight games before the WNIT, had 22 assists on 27 baskets and a 42-37 rebounding edge.
The Spartans shot 34.9 percent from the field and just 21.7 percent beyond the arc, a problem all season for a team that didn't play a WNIT road game.
The road to greater success for both teams could be paved, with just one senior for Marquette and none for Michigan State playing more than 11 minutes in her last collegiate game.
"The big thing is that we won a national championship," Ellis said. "We'll have a nice banner to hang. And we'll be able to remember this next year."
Some memories will last forever.
"This feels so good I can't begin to tell you," Monfre said. "We had nothing to lose and a championship to win. We have a lot of winners on this team."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)