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Northern Michigan University basketball teams to play at Michigan Tech on Sunday

Northern Michigan University’s Amber Huebner puts up a shot against Saginaw Valley State Saturday at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University basketball programs are heading out on the road again.

However, unlike previous trips this fall — yes, winter is still officially still more than a week away — where the Wildcats have gone to Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and even Alaska, this weekend’s voyage is just up the road to Houghton as the women and men take on rival Michigan Tech on Sunday afternoon.

The NMU women (5-5, 2-0 GLIAC) go to the Keweenaw Peninsula with a little momentum as they picked up conference home wins over Northwood and Saginaw Valley State last week. The Wildcats used a strong third quarter to defeat the Timberwolves last Thursday and overcame early poor shooting to top the Cardinals on Saturday.

“Obviously it (Saturday’s game) was not a great shooting performance on our end,” Northern assistant coach Chloe Tompkins said Tuesday. “Probably one of the worst shooting performances we’ve had in the Berry (Events Center) in a long time. But those games happen.

“Honestly, looking back and trying to have a positive spin on it, our defense is what we hold our hat on and that held true that game, and honestly it was a big reason why we won.”

The women face a Tech team that is a contrast to them. While the Wildcats rely on their inside game with Erin Honkala and Jessica Schultz, the Huskies (3-6, 1-1) are very guard-oriented and stay to the outside.

“I think this year, they’re giving us a different look than they have in the past,” Tompkins said. “Losing Elizabeth Kelliher at the 5 (center) from last year, they’ve got a really guard-heavy team. They don’t have a demanding inside game at the moment. Abbie Botz gives them a really versatile 5.

“We obviously play a lot of inside, so it’s kind of a battle of our strengths. Our strength is the inside game and their strength is their guard play.

“Just like Northwood, we’re both a little beat up. I know they’ve lost (Baillie) McGirk and Sloane (Zenner) this year and obviously, we’ve got Lexi (Smith) out right now.”

The men’s team had two close calls last week. However, while the women are going to Tech on a positive note, the men are frustrated.

In their first home contests of the year, the men struggled badly from the beyond the arc in Thursday’s loss to Northwood, and on Saturday, the Wildcats (3-5, 0-2 GLIAC) had opportunities late to take control, but also fell to SVSU.

“Anytime you go 0-2 and lose two close games, both one-possession games down the stretch, I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of great feelings about it,” Northern head men’s coach Matt Majkrzak said. “At the same time, I don’t want to overreact to things like missing shots in particular. I don’t want to overreact to that because that’s part of the game and that’s part of the game that I don’t know if you can necessarily control with anything that night.

“A lot of that has to do with the work you put in, and by and large, I’m happy with the work our guys have put in and we’ve shot the ball well all year….

“That’s the part you don’t want to overreact to, but obviously, it’s still tough losing two close games.”

The Wildcats have a great chance to bounce back, though, against the Huskies. Tech is off to a good start (6-2, 2-0), but Majkrzak knows what to expect since NMU has traveled with them on two long road trips.

“I feel like (Michigan Tech has) been waiting for this team for four or five years in some ways where they’ve had a bunch of really good players, but those players haven’t all played together at the same time because of injuries and all that kind of stuff,” the Wildcats coach said. “In some ways, they almost have seven returning starters and a bunch of guys that led them in scoring in different years and things like that with some of the adversity they’ve been through in the past.

“They’re healthy and they’re very talented and I think they’re a lot of people’s pick to win the league, assuming everything can hold up there. I think they’re a really good team.

“We’ve seen a lot of them, which I think helps in that we traveled with them to Alaska. We traveled with them to Illinois. We’re very comfortable with them….

“We have a ton of respect for them, but at the same time, I think our guys are confident. We can play with them if we play our best, which sounds a little controversial when they won both games by 30 and we lost both games against the same teams last weekend.

“But I do think if we can play up to our capabilities and defend them and try to limit them, I’m excited for kind of the opportunity to try to bounce back in as big a way as possible.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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