Lady ’Cats make statement heading into playoffs

Jon Young

The message was simple for the NMU women’s basketball team this weekend: win and you’re in. The ’Cats swept their final two home games and wrapped up a GLIAC tournament bid.

On Saturday the Wildcats (9-10 GLIAC, 13-13 overall) beat Saginaw Valley, 76-61, to take third place in the GLIAC North. It was Senior Day for NMU and their senior backcourt duo of Hillary Bowling and Chelsea Lyons buried the Cardinals.

“I thought Hillary just had an unbelievable day from the field and obviously Chelsea continued to do what she does,” said head coach Troy Mattson. “I’m just excited this team has a chance to move on, because there are some people that really deserve it, such as Chelsea and Hillary.”

Bowling was dialed in from the distance. She connected on a season high 7-12 from deep to lead NMU with 21 points.

Bowling said it was a relief to put Saginaw away and get a convincing win.

“We actually came together for a full 40 minutes,” Bowling said. “It has been our goal the whole season to play the full 40 minutes and today we finally did that and we won by more then two points so that was good.”

The ’Cats went into halftime ahead, 36-31. Increased defensive pressure and three second half 3-pointers from freshman Lauren Gruber helped sink any chance of a Saginaw comeback. Mattson said her clutch factor is crucial.

“She’s not going to back down from any situation and she’s kind of like our toughness in that group right now,” Mattson said.

NMU held the Cardinals to 38.5 percent shooting in the second half and forced 19 turnovers in the game. Bowling said the team is coming together at the right time.

“I don’t think it could be better timing,” Bowling said. “Usually teams peak at the beginning of the season or mid season but it’s perfect timing for us to peak right now. We’re confident at what we can do and we know we can beat anybody.”

On Thursday, the ’Cats hosted the Northwood University Timberwolves. Lyons poured in a career-high 34 points to carry NMU to a 71-62 victory.

“I don’t keep track of how many points I have during the game but when you have the open shots you try and take them,” Lyons said. “I was blessed to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that I had.”

The ’Cats went into the half leading, 31-26, even though they only connected on 1 of 10 from deep. Mattson said he was happy with the effort his team showed in the second half.

“I thought we really gutted it out and made some big plays in the second half to seal the deal,” Mattson said.

Gruber was a vital part of those big plays. The freshman dropped 17 of her 19 points in the second half including back-to-back 3-pointers early in the half that broke the tie and put NMU up by six.

“Lauren stepped up and knocked them in like she’s been doing it everyday,” Mattson said. “I think she’s going to be a wonderful player in this league because she’s just a real tough player and when the going got tough, she got going.”

The ’Cats sealed the game at the free-throw line where they connected on 15-17 for the game. Lyons sealed the win when she took the foul, converted the lay-up and made the point after with 45 seconds left.

“We had a bit of a drought in the second half but that was probably one of the best games we played and it was really good to come out in such an important game,” Lyons said.

As the No. 8 seed the ’Cats will travel to Ohio to take on the No.1 seed Ashland University Eagles (19-0 GLIAC, 25-1 overall). The game is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 29.