MARQUETTE - With a team predominately of underclassmen and no one taller than 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Ashley Berth, Northern Michigan University head women's basketball coach Troy Mattson did not expect his Wildcats to win the battle on the boards much this season.
Instead, it's been just the opposite six games in and one week into the GLIAC schedule.
"In an area I thought we might struggle in, we have just crushed teams on the boards on the offensive and defensive rebounding," Mattson said. "Hopefully we can continue to do that."
The Wildcats will have to keep their rebounding edge at 7:30 p.m. today against Hillsdale and at 3 p.m. on Saturday against Findlay, both games at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
NMU (1-1 in GLIAC, 4-2 overall) is out-rebounding opponents on average of 46-25.8 rebounds per game, including 15.5-6.17 on the offensive boards.
Freshman Nea Makela of Finland leads NMU in rebounding, averaging six per game. Sophomore Abbey DeBruin is averaging 5.5 boards per game.
- Tonight: Hillsdale at Northern Michigan, 7:30 p.m., Berry Events Center
- Saturday: Findlay at Northern Michigan,
3 p.m., Berry Events Center
Mattson also highlighted freshman Anna Liewen's rebounding effort. She only averages 3.7 board per contest, but is also only on the floor for an average of 12.7 minutes pr game.
Liewen led NMU on the boards Saturday in the loss at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, with eight in 16 minutes of action and five boards came on the offensive end.
"For their ages, being freshman, they have really, really helped us," Mattson said.
Northern returns home to the Berry Events Center after four straight games in Ohio. The Wildcats picked up three wins in the Buckeye State and saw sophomore Alyssa Colla step up to lead the team in scoring in their last three games.
Sophomore Lauren Gruber - who Mattson said has "gone to another level" - leads NMU in scoring averaging 12.5 points per game, but Colla is averaging 14.7 points in each of the 'Cats last three outings
Colla hit the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining in the 58-57 win a week ago at Walsh University, then led NMU in scoring with 15 points in a 64-56 loss at Malone.
"Alyssa Colla has struggled early on, but the last few games has really, really showed she's getting back to where she wants to be," Mattson said.
"We put the ball in Alyssa's hands for a reason because we think she is our best playmaker and the person with the best capabilities to make a shot like that. For her to make that at such an early age and early in the season, it gave us a bit of a jolt. It was a big, big win for us."
Colla led the Wildcats last season against Hillsdale, totaling 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Northern lost the game 68-62, however, and only has three wins against the Chargers in their last 10 meetings.
Hillsdale (1-1, 2-1) opened GLIAC play last week with a 70-51 loss to Northwood and 77-51 win over Lake Superior State.
"Hillsdale is going to throw a lot of different wrinkles at us because they are smaller and they press a lot," Mattson said. "They throw a lot of different junk defenses at you. When you have a young team, sometimes that becomes tough because people don't realize the areas you need to attack in."
Colla also led the Wildcats in scoring against Findlay last season, scoring 24 points in a tight 79-76 win for NMU.
The Oilers (2-0, 4-0) are unbeaten after opening GLIAC play last week with a 71-51 win over LSSU and 78-66 win over Northwood.
"Findlay has always had a very solid program," Mattson said. "They continue to. If they come in here and we give them a great game and we pull a win out of here, it's really going to give us a boost and keep our momentum going."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.