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Givens leads Middle Tennessee to 26th straight win, NCAA bid

LAFAYETTE, La. -- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell expects
Chrissy Givens to play better as the stakes get bigger. And she
keeps delivering.

Givens scored 33 points to lead No. 16 Middle Tennessee to its
fourth straight Sun Belt Conference tournament championship in a
77-67 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday.

"If you could buy stock in Chrissy Givens, you'd get wealthy,"
Insell said.

"To have the target on your back all year and still come out
and have your best games in big games? I don't know if we'll ever
see another Chrissy Givens come through Middle Tennessee," Insell
said. "She's playing to get into the NCAA Tournament and win the
national championship -- in practice -- every time the ball touches
her hands. I've never seen that out of anybody."

Givens' showing against Louisiana-Lafayette was the best of
three impressive tournament performances for the senior, who will
leave college basketball never knowing what it's like to miss an
NCAA Tournament.

She scored 24 in a victory over South Alabama in the
quarterfinals and 28 in Monday's semifinal win over Denver. Her
total of 85 points set a scoring record for a Sun Belt tournament.

"I kind of took it upon myself," Givens said. "This game was
going to be the last time I play in the Sun Belt and we have a
couple freshman who haven't won a ring. So I said 'Chrissy, this is
one of the best times to step up and put the ball in the hole for
them.' I just thought, 'Give me the ball and let's go.'"

Amber Holt scored 20 and Johnna Abney 12 for the Blue Raiders
(29-3), who have won a school-record 26 games in a row. Holt and
Abney combined for six 3-pointers, including one each on
back-to-back possessions that gave Middle Tennessee a 61-46 lead
with about 10 minutes remaining.

That lead proved too much to overcome for Louisiana-Lafayette
(25-8), which got within single digits several times, only to be
done in by Givens' relentless scoring. She was 13-for-21 from the
floor and made all six of her free throws.

Yolanda Jones led the Ragin' Cajuns with 19 points and 13
rebounds, while Alicia McDaniel added 13, Jeanenne Colbert 11 and
Sonora Edwards 10.

Jones held out hope that a 25-victory season and a competitive
showing against the Blue Raiders would be enough for
Louisiana-Lafayette to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Middle Tennessee had won their previous two games by 27 and 26
points.

"They didn't blow us out. We played with them," Jones said.

Insell agreed.

"On two different occasions we're ready to put it away ... and
they come right back and get a 3-pointer. So they just took the
momentum right back away from us. No one has done that all year,"
Insell said. "They didn't quit at all."

Louisiana-Lafayette outshot Middle Tennessee 53.1 percent to
45.3 percent and outrebounded the Blue Raiders 33-29, but Middle
Tennessee was more accurate from long range and used constant
pressure to force 24 turnovers, which it converted into 28 points.

"They kept changing their defenses," Louisiana-Lafayatte coach
J. Kelley Hall said. "We struggled a little bit against the trap
and I think that's where their experience comes in. They just
continue to change. They wouldn't let you keep doing the same thing
over and over."

Louisiana-Lafayette played with enough hustle and composure to
answer the Blue Raiders basket-for-basket through most of the
opening 10 minutes. Colbert's three-point play on a driving layup
as she was fouled got the Ragin' Cajuns as close as 18-17.

Unfazed, Middle Tennessee methodically kept the pressure on the
Cajuns even while rotating in its reserves. The Blue Raiders set up
Holt for an easy layup and then applied aggressive, trapping
defense that forced five turnovers during a 9-0 run.

Givens, despite being guarded by one of the Cajuns' best
defenders in McDaniel, had a basket and two free throws during the
run and reserve Jackie Pickel added a 3-pointer.

McDaniel, who had 11 points in the first half, scored a pair of
inside baskets and two free throws to help the Cajuns trim the
deficit to 33-29. But Givens was too much for the Cajuns, muscling
in a tough shot over Edwards on the baseline, then hitting a
transition jumper at the halftime buzzer to put Middle Tennessee
ahead 39-29.

"We really just got frustrated," McDaniel said, "And
frustration doesn't help you when you're trying come back in a
game."