Wildcats split weekend

Photo+by+Neil+Flavin%3A+Junior+guard+Sydney+Dillinger+attempts+to+drive+past+a+Saginaw+Valley+State+player.+Last+season%2C+Dillinger+start-+ed+11+of+her+29+games+played%2C+accumulating+731+minutes.

Photo by Neil Flavin: Junior guard Sydney Dillinger attempts to drive past a Saginaw Valley State player. Last season, Dillinger start- ed 11 of her 29 games played, accumulating 731 minutes.

Nate Bellville

The NMU Women’s Basketball team began their conference schedule with a 64-56 loss to the Northwood University Timberwolves and a 60-52 win over the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals at home last weekend.

Head coach Troy Mattson said the team earned some positive results, especially going through adversity.

“Our offensive flow was chaotic early in those games, but we settled down in the second half with players like Sydney [Dillenger] and Lexi [Smith] controlling the floor and we made the big plays when we needed it,” Mattson said.

Freshman guard Lexi Smith said the team had steady performances against their first conference opponents, even with the loss to the Timberwolves.

“The games went pretty good. We struggled on offense somewhat, but we found ways to stay strong on defense, try new things on offense, and be more aggressive,” Smith said.

Against Northwood, NMU raced out to a 24-11 lead half-way through the second quarter. Unfortunately, junior guard Darby Youngstrom, who tallied six points in the game, suffered an undisclosed injury around that time. Following a pair of made free throws from sophomore Erin Honkala and a jump shot from Smith, Northwood closed the half with a 6-1 run trailing NMU 31-22.

The Timberwolves’ strong second half saw a 21-2 third quarter run which included Taylor Craymer going five for seven in 3-point shooting. The Wildcats made an attempt to retake the lead in the fourth with layups from Honkala and sophomore Jessica Schultz, but four straight Northwood free throws sealed the game.

Three players finished in double figures with Smith recording 15, followed by Honkala (14) and Schultz (13).

“We were just trying to find our way because we got so many injuries and people out, but we’re seeing who can fit into what position and we will see if it works out,” Mattson said.

Saturday’s game saw NMU’s offense struggling early at the start. The Cardinals would take advantage of Wildcat turnovers with efficient shooting to make it a two-point game (25-23) at halftime.

Picking up intensity in the third quarter, both teams were tied up at 33 until redshirt freshman guard Terese Ledy sank two free throws to break the tie. Smith’s three-point play and sophomore forward Emma Benoit’s layup followed up to extend their lead to seven.

The Cardinals would rally to within seven in the fourth, but Wildcat free throws would decide the game at 60-52.

In the game, the Wildcats shot 83 percent from the free throw line. Smith’s 15 of her career-high 21 points came from the charity stripe, where she shot 100 percent from. Junior guard Tess Weatherly also recorded nine points in the contest.

“Free throws are crucial and we made a lot of them (against Saginaw). It’ll definitely help you in games,” Smith said.

Mattson is hoping that Smith can step up more on the court with key players, like Youngstrom, that are out.

“She’s got to be the person that we recruited her to be and that’s to be a go-to player,” Mattson said.

With finals coming next week, the team is working on scheduling around studying for exams and game preparations while traveling to Purdue Northwest and Grand Valley this weekend.

Smith said that the team will have time to both study and plan for games.

“We usually study on our free time especially on our bus rides, do some team stuff for film and practices, and obviously be sharp for anything that comes up,” Smith said.