Mackenzie Kmecik saved her best for last.
Playing in her final home game for the University of Wisconsin-Superior women’s basketball team, the former Superior Spartan scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Yellowjackets to a 90-83 win over Northwestern in the UMAC tournament semifinals Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Mertz Mortorelli Gym.
Kmecik, who averaged 1.85 points per game for her career at UWS, shot 6-of-8 from the field, was 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, and had two steals and two assists. She also made her only 3-point attempt.
“I’m so happy for her, a Superior native and her last game on our floor,” UWS coach Zach Otto-Fisher said. “She had a heck of night shooting, but we knew she’s capable of playing like that because she works hard for it, and she always wins our shooting competitions in practice. It’s nice to see it carry over into the game.”
UWS (18-8) also got 16 points from Marissa Ruiz and 15 from Emily Carpenter. Eva Reinertsen recorded her 11th double-double year with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The Vikings reached the championship game with a 53-43 win over Minnesota-Morris on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s game looked like it was going to be a repeat from a week earlier when UWS defeated Northwestern by 27 points (85-58).
The Yellowjackets built a big halftime lead — 43-27 — but the second half was much different the Eagles scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to get within 43-37.
UWS got the lead back to 10 on baskets by Reinertsen and Ruiz, but that would be the last double-digit lead the ‘Jackets would enjoy.
Northwestern, which outscored UWS 28-18 in the third quarter, also scored eight straight to start the fourth and took a 63-61 lead on a Rio Landers’ 3-pointer with 8:50 remaining.
The lead changed hands four times over the next couple of minutes until UWS took the lead for good, 68-67, on a Reinertsen basket with 4:50 remaining.
“Give credit to our girls,” Otto-Fisher said. “They went on a 14-2 run and took that 2-point lead, but we held our composure, battled back and then made our free throws at the end.”
Baskets by Kmecik and Reinertsen put the 'Jackets up five, but Northwestern managed to get within 79-78 with 1:15 remaining.
UWS sealed the win by making 7-of-8 free throws over the final 40 seconds, including four straight by Kmecik.
UWS finished 24-of-30 from the free-throw line.
“Free throws are always important, but we knew they were really going to be a big thing if you want to win in the playoffs,” Kmecik said. “We needed to hit them at crucial times and we were able to do that.”
UWS ended the regular season with a 71-48 loss to Bethany Lutheran on Feb. 15.
“We told our girls we can’t play any worse than we did last Saturday, so the girls are excited to go back down there,” Otto-Fisher said.
UWS will be playing in its seventh straight UMAC title game and will play Bethany Lutheran for the third year in a row.
“If we play with confidence like we did tonight, it’s going to be a good game,” Kmecik said.
SPARTAN SPIN: Reinertsen set a school record for games played (109) and moved into third place on the all-time scoring list (1,314 points). … Carpenter was honored prior to the game for setting the school’s single-season 3-point record (59). She added three more Wednesday and now has 159 over her career.
Northwestern — Rio Landers 21, Brooklyn DeKam 21, Kelsea Lund 13, Miranda Crenshaw 10, Jordan Staufe 8, Hailey Paup 8, Courtney Schmidt 2. Totals: 30-59 11-17 83.
3-point goals (12-24) — Landers 4, DeKam 4, Lund 2.
UWS — Mackenzie Kmecik 23, Marissa Ruiz 16, Emily Carpenter 15, Eva Reinertsen 14, Destiny Haldeman 7, Ellie Leadstrom 5, Mikala Koivisto 4, Mady Sanders 3, Kaelyn Christian 3. Totals: 29-65 24-30 90.
3-point goals (8-15 ) — Ruiz 3, Carpenter 3, Kmecik, Christian.