’Cat Scratch Fever

Ray Bressette

The young NMU women’s basketball team faced a mighty task Monday night when they hosted the defending GLIAC champion Michigan Tech Huskies.

For eight Wildcat freshmen, the match was their first against their archrivals in the battle of the U.P., and the back-and-forth battle went down to the final seconds for a team to grab the cross-state win.

But it was a veteran in junior guard Bre Gaspervich who put up the game-winning layup in the final moments of the contest to earn the 71-69 upset win over the experienced and division-leading Huskies.re-Women'sBasketball

NMU head coach Troy Mattson said the victory was a step toward a promising future for his team.

“This is a big win for us,” Mattson said. “We’ve been working hard, and they’re learning how to compete at this level. We have so many young players, and for us to be able to get ourselves back in the game and pull it out was a huge win for this program.”

Gaspervich’s 21 points led her Wildcats in scoring throughout the contest, but none were as big as the pair she sank on a sideline out-of-bounds pass from freshman guard Darby Youngstrom in front of the Wildcat bench with four seconds remaining in the game. Gaspervich cut inside to the basket untouched with no Huskies in her lane, a move that even caught Gaspervich by surprise.

“I was scared I was going to get blocked,” Gaspervich said. “I didn’t think there was any way I could be that open. I went out, brought it in and finished it after a great pass from [Youngstrom].”

Mattson said the play was designed with Gaspervich as the first option, followed by freshmen guards Tess Weatherly or Chloe Tompkins in place of Gaspervich.

“Tech made a mistake by not guarding the basket, and it was big,” Mattson said. “I looked down and couldn’t believe they didn’t guard the basket.It’s a cardinal sin in basketball but for us it was awesome.”

With the Huskies regaining possession with little time remaining, Tech had the ball in the hands of one of the GLIAC’s top players in senior forward Danielle Blake, who’s led her team in scoring all year, for one last chance at sending the game to overtime.

The Huskies had the option of senior center Kylie Moxley on the court for the final play, who led her team in scoring in the game with 27 points to Blake’s 19 points. But the pass was inbounded to Blake instead, who tried to work her way into the paint and around the Wildcats’ freshman guard Darby Youngstrom to the basket. Youngstrom stuck with her all the way to the net, forcing a shot that came up short on the side of the basket to seal the win for the ’Cats.                                                                                                                                                Youngstrom said she favored Blake taking the shot over Moxley with the game on the line.

“We all had an assignment, stepped up and stopped our assigned player,” Youngstrom said. “I saw Moxley turn her back, and I knew we were having trouble with her, then I knew Blake wasn’t a real three-point threat when she went in [and missed]. The adrenaline was really getting to me.”

NMU scored 70 or more points for just the third time the season, doing so in their first win over a team holding a playoff seed in the GLIAC tournament. Youngstrom finished the game behind Gaspervich in scoring with 19 points. Freshman guard Chloe Tompkins also contributed 13 points.

Mattson said his ’Cats can build off the offensive explosiveness in Sunday’s win.

“Being able to get yourself in a close game against your big rival and win is huge for our confidence,” Mattson said. “We’re not a team that’s going to score 70 points much, but maybe this game was a breakthrough to show us we can.”

The win was the first for NMU over their cross-state rivals in two seasons.

Youngstrom said her teammates hope they get many more wins over their Huskie foes in years to come.

“Everyone had the mindset that they’re our rival,” Youngstrom said. “Obviously it’s a big win, but we want to beat our rival even if they’re the worst team in the league. It’s a big win for us young players, it’s our first time playing Tech and there’s no better way to start the rivalry off than with a win.”