Advantage ’Cats in feline fight

Levi Erkkila

The Northern Michigan University Women’s Basketball team hit the road this past weekend for a pair of GLIAC match-ups. On Thursday, the Wildcats took on the No. 11 Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Lakers and fell 50-37. The ’Cats bounced back Saturday and took home a 64-42 win against the Davenport University (DU) Panthers.

In Thursday’s game, the Wildcats faced off against the GLIAC South leading Grand Valley State University. The Lakers stellar defense proved to be a tough task for NMU.

“We didn’t score a field goal in the first quarter and a lot of that was self-inflicted, we weren’t tough enough,” head coach Troy Mattson said. “We need people to step up and make shots.”

Senior guard Darby Youngstrom and junior center Jessica Schultz led the Wildcats with eight points each. Sophomore guard Lexi Smith finished with a team best of nine rebounds.

NMU came out flat and were not able to score a field goal in the first quarter. The Wildcats only points of the quarter came off a pair of free throws from Smith. GVSU took a commanding 12-2 lead in the second quarter that could have been much worse if NMU’s defense had been off its game.

In the second quarter, GVSU’s defense continued to suffocate the Wildcat offense as Northern trailed 15-5 midway through the second quarter. The ’Cats failed to close the gap before halftime and faced a 21-10 deficit heading into the second half.

The Wildcats offense finally ignited a spark and started the third quarter on a 10-2 run. With 6:41 remaining in the quarter, the score was 23-20 in favor of GVSU and momentum seemed to begin to sway toward NMU. The Lakers answered with an 11-5 run to close out the third frame. Grand Valley took a 34-25 advantage into the final quarter.

The fourth quarter saw another big run from the Lakers with nine unanswered points following a NMU basket. The Wildcats fell even further behind and with 3:46 left to play trailed 43-27. The Wildcats finished the final minutes on a 10-7 run but the GVSU lead proved too insurmountable for a comeback and the Lakers came out with a 50-37 victory.

The 37 points put up by NMU were the fewest scored by the Wildcats all season.

“Our Achilles’ heel this year at times in some bigger games has been able to score points,” Mattson said.

In Saturday’s game, the Wildcats’ first-half struggles that plagued the team on Thursday night seemed to dissipate.

Both teams traded baskets and were neck-and-neck in the beginning stages of the first quarter until NMU used a 5-0 run to take a 13-8 lead after the first 10 minutes.

NMU capitalized on poor Panther defense and extended their lead behind an 8-0 rally to extend their lead to 21-8 with just under five minutes remaining in the first half. The Wildcats continued to bury Davenport a deeper hole and took a 28-13 lead into half time.

The Panthers began to chip away at the Wildcat advantage, cutting the lead down to 31-21 shortly into the second half. Northern wouldn’t be held down for long as it extended the lead once again, jumping ahead 39-23 with 6:51 to go in the quarter. The Wildcats took a 47-33 lead into the final quarter.

NMU controlled the fourth quarter with a 10-5 run, pushing the lead to 57-38. The ’Cats held off the Panthers and took home a 64-42 victory.

Schultz led the way with 18 points and Youngstrom added 17 points. Senior center Taylor Hodell and sophomore guard Elizabeth Lutz both chipped in with six points. Junior forward Erin Honkala finished with a team best of six rebounds.

NMU holds a record of 20-7 overall and are 15-4 in the GLIAC for their first 20-win year since the 2013-14 season. NMU returns to action at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, to take on its rival Michigan Technological University Thursday in Houghton for the final regular season game of the year.

The Wildcats will host a GLIAC Tournament Quarterfinal contest on Tuesday, March 5, against a still-to-be-determined opponent.

“There is a lot riding on this game [with Michigan Tech] for both teams. We are both playing for the same thing,” Mattson said. “It’s going to be a great game.”