MARQUETTE - If Northern Michigan University can catch lightning in a bottle for the stretch run, close really will count in basketball just like it does in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The Wildcats suffered a pair of three-point losses at Saginaw Valley State and Wayne State last week to slip to 11-5 overall and 8-4 in the GLIAC, three games behind the North Division-leading Warriors and two behind Michigan Tech.
But Northern head coach Troy Mattson isn't about to panic, not with the way his team is playing. And especially with one more opportunity to play WSU and two vs. MTU yet to come.
Northern?Michigan University junior guard Alyssa Colla, top, wrestles with Ferris State’s April Wilson for the ball on Jan. 18 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. The Wildcats are in the midst of a three-game losing streak heading into Thursday’s home game against Lake Superior State. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"We went to Wayne State and played great," he said. "We were up eight (points) in the second half and had a chance to win.
"And we lost at Saginaw Valley on a last-second basket. (SVSU) did the same thing to Michigan Tech on Saturday," he said about the Cardinals' 63-62 victory over the Huskies.
"We just have to bounce back. We have a couple of girls who are not playing with a lot of confidence right now. But it's going to be nip and tuck when you've got seven teams in the North Division who are all fairly equal.
"I can take some comfort in knowing that we missed two shots to win two games, and both were great shots. We had been able to win those close games until the last few.
"We're in the home stretch now, and we're not in the position to lose any home games we should be winning.
"We need to make a statement in these final 10 games."
Lake Superior State, last place in the North at 4-8, 4-14 overall, comes to Marquette at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by Northwood two days later at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The Timberwolves are tied with the Wildcats at 8-4 in league games and 10-6 overall.
Then comes a trip to Houghton at 5:30 p.m. Monday to face Michigan Tech (10-2, 12-4).
With continued solid play out of junior guards Alyssa Colla, who averages 15.9 points per game, and Lauren Gruber, at 10.1 ppg, Mattson has inserted 6-foot-1 Annie Rubendunst into the starting lineup at center.
The senior responded with 18 points and 10 rebounds against SVSU and 19 points and five rebounds against Wayne State, also blocking two shots in each game.
"My inside girls have got to play better, so we've made a little bit of an adjustment," Mattson said.
"Otherwise, we're not changing what we're doing. We still play man-to-man defense and we still emphasize taking care of the ball the best that we can."
Stephanie Fisher leads the Lakers, who are on a three-game losing streak, in scoring at 11.8 ppg, while Lauren Robak is tops at 17.7 ppg for the Timberwolves, who have won five straight.
Despite its lofty conference standing, MTU has lost two in a row after opening the conference season 10-0. The Huskies have balanced scoring at the top, with three players averaging at least 12 ppg, led by Mackenzie Perttu at 13.8 ppg.