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CEDAR FALLS — After 20 solid minutes, the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team was rolling, owned a nine-point halftime lead.

But Division II Minnesota State had no plans on letting the Panthers roll to an easy victory in the second half.

With an aggressive approach and attacking the basket relentlessly, the Mavericks closed to within one by the end of three quarters, but the Panthers (6-4) got mean in the fourth and stormed past the Mavericks, 73-56, in non-conference action at the McLeod Center.

“I did like the way we responded in the fourth quarter,” UNI head coach Tanya Warren said. “We answered the bell when we needed, and we came up with big stops when we needed, and we began to defend with an urgency.”

After leading 35-26 at halftime, UNI led just 49-48 after three, but the Panthers defense did more than answer the bell, they knocked out the Mavericks holding them to eight points in the final frame, while scoring 24.

A pair of nice defensive plays by senior Mikaela Morgan got the Panthers off to a strong start to the fourth, each leading to points, but Tyler Drost hit a 3-pointer for the Mavericks to cut the deficit back to 53-51. That is as close as Minnesota State would get, however, as UNI closed the game on a 20-5 run.

“I think the way we started the fourth kind of fired everyone up,” Morgan said. “When we got the turnover and got points at the other end that gave us what we needed. They (Mavericks) came out pretty aggressive, but we answered and I think we took a lot out of them.”

The Panther offense was just as relentless as their defense, as Karli Rucker and crew pounded away at the Mavericks.

“I think we got really fired up after Morgan’s play and sometimes it just takes that one play to get going,” said Rucker. “We came out to play and everyone did their part. It was a good win for us after being so close. It was a team win.”

Rucker knocked in nine of her game high 23 points in the final quarter to pace the attack.

It was just the second game for UNI without post player Megan Maahs, who suffered a knee injury against North Dakota on Dec. 4.

“After we lost Maahs we needed our bench to be the best it could be,” said Warren. “We continue to be a work in progress now, and the bench has to be ready because you don’t know when your number will be called.

“We were able to go to our bench early to free up some of the girls so they could get back in later in the game. They responded well and the communications was much better. Winning is hard when your back is against the wall and our girls responded to the call.”

UNI 73, Minnesota St. 56

MINNESOTA ST. (5-5)—Muth 1-1 0-0 2, Klitzke 3-4 0-0 7, Drost 9-13 0-0 20, Tonsfeldt 1-4 4-4 7, Shumski 0-3 0-0 0, Fett 3-8 0-0 6, Menster 0-3 0-0 0, Boettcher 1-1 0-0 2, Stuttley 1-2 1-2 4, Reed 0-1 0-0 0, Olson 1-6 3-5 5, Polson 0-0 1-2 1, Nachazel 1-1 0-0 2, Wanek 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-53 9-13 56.

NORTHERN IOWA (6-4) — Simon-Ressler 2-5 2-3 6, Rucker 8-16 5-5 23, Wolf 1-2 0-0 2, Howell 4-9 1-2 10, Morgan 4-6 1-2 10, Hillyard 3-3 0-0 7, Gunnels 1-3 2-2 4, Finley 0-3 0-0 0, Iverson 0-0 0-0 0, Hagen 3-8 2-4 10, Gerrits 1-5 1-2 3, Kroeger 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 14-20 73.

Minnesota St. 13 13 22 8—56

Northern Iowa 18 17 14 24—73

3-point goals—Minnesota St. 5 (Drost 2, Klitzke, Tonsfeldt, Stuttley), UNI 5 (Rucker 2, Howell, Morgan, Hillyard ). Rebounds—Minnesota St. 34 (Fett 10), UNI 37 (Morgan 5, Rucker 5). Assists—Minnesota St. 10 (Muth 3), UNI 15 (Rucker 6). Total fouls—Minnesota St. 19, UNI 10. Fouled out—None.

Officials—Marlin Schoonoven, Erica Parker and Shawn Winter. Att—1,256.

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