Hendrickson delivers win with last-second shot

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

By Nathan Cooper, Tribune staff writer

ALBERT LEA &045; It took less than a second for every Albert Lea girls’ basketball player and fan to forget about the 35-plus minutes of non-calls, missed opportunities and coulda-beens on Tuesday night.

For the Century Panthers, those events will be much tougher to forget.

It was thanks to some last-second heroics on the offensive boards that gave the Tigers four chances to win in the waning seconds of the game. The final shot came from the hand of Niki Hendrickson under the basket as time expired to give the Tigers a thrilling 63-62 Big Nine Conference victory.

It certainly wasn’t how coach Karol Hansen would have drawn it up. But it worked.

The Tigers played on top for most of the first half, but escaped the first

with only a 33-32 halftime lead.

Sloppy play plagued both teams at times in the game, but coach Karol Hansen

was proud of the way her team fought in an extremely physical matchup.

&8220;It’s nice to see the girls can persevere. It’s been our nemesis in the past, but we’ve gotten a little bit better mental toughness. That’s something you have to do when you play a real physical team.&8221;

Hansen praised the play of her post players who held Century’s two main threats to a combined 11 points.

That toughness came in handy several times throughout the game as the referees

allowed the physical style of play. Albert Lea overcame Century’s 23 offensive

rebounds with 27 of its own, and outrebounded the Panthers by a 50-47 margin.

Neither team led by more than four points, and the first 32 minutes of play were only a precursor of things to come.

After Century took a 55-54 lead, a three-point play by Hali Hendrickson put

the Tigers up two.

Cara Thorn added a free throw the next trip down for a 58-55 lead. The Panthers then transformed a steal to points before Liz Thompson

converted another three-point play for a 61-57 lead with 2:09 remaining.

After a timeout, Thompson notched a steal, only to see a turnover which

allowed a tre by Century.

Albert Lea inbounded after a called time with 1:12 left, and time was ticking on

the Century’s hope of an upset. The Panthers got just what they needed &045; a

turnover &045; on a controversial charge call.

A loose ball foul at Century’s end of the court presented a 1-and-1 opportunity. The Panthers seized that chance, and took a 62-61 lead with under a minute to go.

It didn’t look good after Century’s Whitney Priebe snatched an errant pass with 30 seconds to go, but after another timeout, Priebe mishandled the

inbound pass and gave it back to the Tigers for the last shot.

That one shot turned into four last shots for Albert Lea. In the last seconds, the Tigers perfectly demonstrated their physical toughness shown throughout

game, and took four boards on the offensive glass in the final 15 seconds. It

wasn’t until Niki Hendrickson’s shot went up and barely over the iron at the

buzzer the outcome was settled.

&8220;We didn’t play pretty basketball, but we persevered,&8221; said Hansen. &8220;Credit our girls for their mental toughness and not getting frustrated. Their composure on the court was huge.&8221;

Albert Lea had four players in double figures, led by Hali Hendrickson with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Thorn and Annika Smed with 12 each. Niki

Hendrickson finished with 10. Liz Thompson added eight rebounds. As a team,

the Tigers were 4-for-22 from beyond the arc and 13-for-24 at the line.

Century was 3-for-13 and 9-for-13, respectively.

The win carries the league-leading Tigers to a 9-2 record overall and a 6-1

Big Nine mark. Albert Lea travels to rival Austin on Friday for a rematch of

last year’s opening-round playoff game in which the Packers were eliminated.