’Cats host rival Huskies before GLIAC tournament

Ray Bressette

The NMU women’s basketball team has one game remaining in the regular season before they prepare to tip off against the Grand Valley State University Lakers in the GLIAC tournament next weekend.

But before the ’Cats prepare to defend their GLIAC crown, they have their U.P. rival coming to town, the nation’s No. 9-ranked Michigan Tech Huskies in their regular season finale at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26 in what could be the final home game for six Wildcat seniors at Berry Events Center.

NMU head coach Troy Mattson said a win against Tech can increase their odds moving on past the GLIAC tournament.

“A lot can play into this game, and the next two games will determine what’s going to happen to us,” Mattson said. “If we can get a win against two of the top teams in our region, that’s going to be big for our season. We need to get a win this weekend to help us propel us for Grand Valley. These next two games are huge for us, and we look forward to playing them.”

The Huskies head to Marquette having already clinched the top seed in the GLIAC and are ranked No. 1 in the Midwest Region with a 19-2 GLIAC record, 22-3 overall. The Wildcats meanwhile are ranked ninth in the region, fifth in the GLIAC at 15-6 in the conference, 17-8 overall.

GVSU sits in fourth in the GLIAC an identical conference record as NMU at 15-6, but due to a head-to-head series win, the Lakers hold a tiebreaker over the Wildcats in the GLIAC, and sit ranked eighth regionally.

While the ’Cats are locked into playing GVSU in the first round of the playoffs, NMU can host the Lakers in the playoff match next week with a win over the Huskies and a Laker loss to Ferris State University Thursday night. However, a Wildcat loss or a Laker win will send the ’Cats on the road.

The ’Cats lost their first match of the season to the Huskies 57-49 Monday, Feb. 2 in Houghton. Senior guard and Wildcat leading scorer Alyssa Colla reached foul trouble early in the match and had to sit the majority of the first half. NMU held a 20-19 lead heading into the half and a 30-29 lead with 13:23 in the game, but a 28-19 run by the Huskies gave Tech the eight point win.

Sophomore Bre Gaspervich, who is NMU’s third leading scorer averaging 9 points per game plays the fourth most minutes for NMU with 28.2 minutes per game, but only saw one minute of playing time in the loss to Tech.

Mattson said we can expect to see Gaspervich in the lineup against the Huskies Thursday.

“One of my biggest mistakes of the year was not playing [Gaspervich] against Tech,” Mattson said. “I guarantee that won’t happen again. I decided we would try something different against them, and I don’t know that it didn’t work, but she’s just too good not to have on the basketball court. We’ll find a place for her on the defensive end from here on out.”

Colla led NMU scorers with 15 points despite missing the majority of the first half.

Colla is the GLIAC’s second leading scorer averaging 17.9 points per game, and is sixth all time on the Wildcat scoring list.

Sophomore guard Morgan Anderson was the Huskies’ leading scorer with 16 points. Junior forward Danielle Blake scored 10 points for Tech and is her team’s leading scorer on the season averaging 13 points per game while also leading the team in rebounds with 7.3 per game on average.

After the loss to Tech, the Wildcats suffered a 62-58 loss to GVSU but have not looked back since, riding a five-game win streak. Mattson said his team has found their rhythm the past three weeks.

Junior forward Nea Makela said the ’Cats have found their game since their loss at Tech.

“We’re flowing better as a team,” Makela said. “I think we’ve been moving the ball a lot better and finding open people on the court, and that’s really been the biggest difference.”

Last weekend, the Wildcats sank the Lake Superior State University Lakers 69-49 Thursday, Feb. 19 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. before earning a 65-44 win over the Northwood University Timberwolves in Midland, Mich. Makela scored a season-high 13 points in the win.

The Huskies fell short to the Timberwolves 96-90 Thursday, Feb. 19 on the road before finishing their trip in the Sault where they rebounded with a 72-61 win over LSSU.

“We’ve been playing absolutely incredible defense the last couple weeks,” Mattson said. “It’s who we are, and I think we’ve finally found our identity this year. It’s been hard for opponents to get shots or find consistency, and we’re going to need to continue to do the same if we’re going to be successful.”

The Wildcats lead the all-time series with Tech 50-40 and have not lost to the Huskies at Berry Events Center in three years.

Michigan Tech head coach Kim Cameron said Thursday’s match has great implications on both sides.

“It’s a huge game with both teams fighting to finish the regular season with a win and head into the postseason with momentum,” Cameron said. “At this point in the season, every game impacts what happens to your team for the postseason. We expect every basket to be earned, and the defense on both teams to control how the game will go.”

If the Wildcats lose or GVSU wins on Thursday, the match will be the last home game at Berry Events Center for six seniors, including Colla, guards Lauren Gruber and Sarah Miller, center Courtney Lemon and forwards Brooke Coenen and Abbey DeBruin.

Colla and Gruber are each part of the 23 all-time Wildcats to score over 1,000 career points for NMU, while DeBruin has grabbed over 500 rebounds for the ’Cats.

Makela said a win over Tech would be a great way to end the regular season.

“This is always a big rivalry with the teams being so close,” Makela said. “There’s a lot of mental pressure when we play against them more than anyone else, but we have to remember it’s still a game just like any other.

It’s a big game for our seniors definitely, they’ve done everything for us and it’s a must win that we need for them.”