MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University women's basketball team may have secured a 58-48 win over GLIAC foe Hillsdale early on Thursday night, but Wildcats head coach Troy Mattson knows full well that with the tough teams yet to come, it's not time to be satisfied just yet.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell anyone we're a polished basketball team right now," Mattson said after improving to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the GLIAC. "But these girls are great kids and they play hard every single day. They're only going to get better, and we're excited about that."
The win on Thursday night began early in the first half for the 'Cats, as they jumped out to an initial 8-1 lead. They maintained that lead for the remainder of the first half, sitting at 27-19 going into halftime, and managed to stay out of the Chargers' reach well into the second half - leading by 15 at one point - before allowing Hillsdale to narrow the gap a bit as the game came to a close.
Northern Michigan University freshman Anna Liewen (24) is fouled by Hillsdale sophomore Megan Fogt (32) during the first half on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"I thought we missed out on a lot of opportunities to put the game away earlier than when we did," Mattson said. "We had a lot of rebounds that we missed, we turned the ball over a few too many times and we missed some shots inside early in the game. We really could have stretched that from an eight-point halftime lead to maybe even a 15- or 16-point halftime lead.
"So those things kind of concern me a little bit, but overall we hung in there and defensively we did a really, really good job tonight."
Mattson expressed his dissatisfaction with the amount of turnovers the team has been giving up, but otherwise thought his team has been responding well to its lack of veterans and experience this season.
"We have the potential to be a very good basketball team, but we have some growing to do," he said. "I mean we're playing all freshmen and sophomores, we don't have any juniors or seniors that are playing major minutes. So we have a lot of growing.
"We also need to start taking care of the basketball. We need to get our turnovers cut down and I think that, truthfully, that's our biggest issue."
Behind sophomore leading scorer Alyssa Colla, who had 16 points, was freshman Nea Makela, who dominated on the boards with nine total rebounds and was the team' second highest scorer with 15 points.
"I thought that Nea Makela played well inside and Lauren Gruber is always just solid as a rock out there," Mattson said. "They kept playing away all night long, and doing what they're supposed to be doing. I also thought Alyssa Colla had a great game. I know she made a lot of big shots for us.
"So you get three right across the front that are very solid, but we need some other people to step up and help us in the scoring department too. It can't just be those three."
In terms of offensive contributions, scoring was limited almost primarily to Gruber, Makela and Colla. But depth and defense are both things that Mattson and the players hope to address as the season progresses.
"We're working on letting our offense click more instead of forcing things," sophomore Courtney Lemon said. "It clicks at times, but we haven't really played a full quarter where we're all straight on.
"We've just got to keep our turnovers down and make our easy shots, because that's what is keeping the other teams in the game. Once we start doing that, I think we'll really start clicking as a team and really start showing good wins."
NMU matches up with another conference rival, Findlay University, at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Berry Events Center. Findlay comes into Saturday's match undefeated with a 4-0 overall record.
Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500.