MARQUETTE - For the second time this season, the Northern Michigan University women's basketball team was on the verge of taking down another GLIAC power at the Berry Events Center.
Wayne State refused to meet the same fate as Findlay did in early December, however, powering its way through the paint to beat the Wildcats 63-59 on Saturday to remain tied atop the North Division.
"We have a long way to go, but we're there," NMU head coach Troy Mattson said. "That's one of the better teams in our league and they played good today. We're competing with them. We have to get over the hump, though."
Northern Michigan University's Alyssa Colla (3) puts up a shot over Wayne State's Brittany Streetman during the first half of a GLIAC game on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
Warriors center Juanita Cochran led all scorers with 20 points, most of which came inside as WSU outscored NMU in the paint 28-20.
In their second game back from knee injuries, NMU's post presence of sophomore Abbey DeBruin and freshman Nea Makela combined for 46 minutes after each played 19 in the win over Saginaw Valley State on Thursday.
DeBruin finished with nine points and five rebounds. Makela had 10 points and three rebounds. Even at 100-percent healthy, Mattson said the 'Cats wouldn't have been able to contain Cochran.
"Juanita Cochran is a lot of girl and she can play down there," Mattson said. "She played a great game. We couldn't stop her. We had no answer for her.
"We sent double teams the whole second half. Even in the first half, we sent double teams at her and she was strong enough to get through them.
"We were hanging on her back one time and she made one," he added.
Northern led Wayne State by as many as five points with 1:25 to play in the first half, but a bucket by the Warriors with five seconds to play before halftime cut NMU's lead to 25-22.
Northern took a brief four-point lead, 38-34, with 12:10 to play in the game. Then it began trading leads with Wayne State until a bucket by Cochran with 5:07 to go gave the Warriors some breathing room and a four-point lead.
Twice, the Warriors went up six on NMU - the largest margin by either side - with 4:14 and 3:24 to go in regulation.
The Wildcats came as close as a point of tying WSU with 41 seconds remaining. But a missed jumper by DeBruin with 22 seconds on the BEC clock sandwiched between four successful free throw attempts spoiled the 'Cats upset bid.
"We were very lackadaisical about our play," Mattson said. "We weren't as sharp as Thursday night. We looked very tired for some reason.
"I think Wayne State's press wore us down a little bit."
Sophomores Alyssa Colla and Lauren Gruber led NMU in scoring with 15 points each.
Gruber, DeBruin and sophomore Sarah Miller all shared the team-high of five rebounds.
NMU struggled with its shooting, whether it be from the field (19 of 48 for 39.6 percent), 3-point range (4 of 15 for 26.7 percent) or from the free throw line (17 of 25 for 68 percent).
The struggles at the free throw line occurred mostly in the second half. After hitting 9-of-11 attempts in the first 20 minutes, NMU shot 8 of 14 from the charity stripe in the second half.
"We missed a lot of layups and a lot of free throws that this team is capable of doing," Mattson said.
"If we make those layups and free throws, we win this basketball game.
"The only two important shots in basketball, I think, are those two and we didn't finish them."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.