MARQUETTE - It looked like it might be over for the Northern Michigan University women's basketball team Thursday night, but with a little luck and a lot of perseverance, the Wildcats pulled off a 64-63 GLIAC home win over Saginaw Valley State in what head coach Troy Mattson considered the biggest game of the year.
The Wildcats struggled with shooting for nearly the entire game with a field goal percentage of 36.9 percent. With only 5:17 remaining, the Cardinals led by nine points.
"We just couldn't get the ball in the basket, but we hung in there," Mattson said. "I thought the girls did an incredible job of managing the game."
Northern Michigan University junior Lauren Gruber (10) makes the game-winning free throw against Saginaw Valley State University on Thursday in?GLIAC play at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Northern Michigan University juniors Alyssa Colla, right, and Abbey DeBruin, left, celebrate a close win over Saginaw Valley State University Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
In the next five minutes of play, junior Lauren Gruber hit four baskets for 10 points and with 22 seconds to play, the 'Cats were down just one point.
"If there's something that's really tough, it's her," Mattson said of Gruber. "She can take a beating out there and she gives it out, too."
The Cardinals had possession of the ball and the Wildcats were running out of time when NMU freshman Bre Gaspervich saw an opportunity to give her team one last chance by taking a charge.
"I knew that we had to get them trapped and try to get them stopped," Gaspervich said. "I saw her lower her shoulder, so I thought I would just go straight up and excel it."
Gaspervich, standing 5-foot-5, was flung backwards several feet off of the charge by SVSU's Kristen Greene's, but the ball was back in the Wildcats' hands. Mattson said the call might not have been in favor of NMU if it weren't for Gaspervich's size.
"Bre got us a little boost," Mattson said. "Defensively when she went in, she really sparked us and made a few plays to change the momentum of the game."
Gruber drove to the basket and was fouled with eight seconds remaining. She hit both of her free throws to put NMU up one for the victory.
Mattson said, despite Gruber being the team's best free throw shooter, she had been struggling from the line making important shots this season.
"She buried those two like nothing," Mattson said. "She wanted that moment."
Gruber ended the night with a collegiate-high 25 points, with 17 coming in the second half.
"My teammates definitely found me in the open spots," Gruber said. "I give a lot of credit to our players for driving and kicking it."
Junior Alyssa Colla had 12 points and senior Annie Rubendunst had 10. Rubendunst also led the 'Cats with nine rebounds.
For the Cardinals, Katelyn Carriere led with 16 points, while Greene had 15. SVSU outrebounded NMU, 42-36, primarily off of missed Wildcats' shots, resulting in 32 defensive boards.
Now boasting a three-game win streak, Northern advances to 15-7 overall and 12-6 in the GLIAC heading into a tough stretch of season. The Cardinals fall to 12-8 and 10-7, respectively.
"A loss tonight would've been a devastating blow to us," Mattson said. "They're basically tied with us and we needed to get them away from us. It saved us for now."
The Wildcats host Wayne State at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the BEC. The Warriors currently lead the GLIAC after a Thursday win over Michigan Tech.
"They always say, 'winning's contagious just as much as losing,'" Gruber said. "We got a few wins and I hope it carries over to our future games."