Injury-plagued NMU women try to lock up playoff bid

Northern’s Elizabeth Lutz sinks a 3-pointer in the game against Wisconsin-Parkside Thursday Feb 6, 2020 at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

MARQUETTE — It’s been said several times over the past month that the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team is hurting badly, but that’s pretty much the storyline for the team right now.

A good chunk of its roster has been hit hard by injuries and right now, NMU is limping its way toward the end of the regular season. Those injuries were on display last week as the Wildcats (12-13, 9-8 GLIAC) were hit with a surprising road loss to Lake Superior State (7-17, 3-14) and then another defeat at the hands of Ferris State (18-7, 12-5).

Northern head women’s coach Troy Mattson said that the loss to the Lakers was a rough outing, but he was how his team fought against Ferris.

“Thursday was very disappointing just from the effort standpoint in the first half where we knew we had to lock them up defensively,” he said Tuesday. “We talked about it for three days and I thought we were ready to play and lo (and) behold Lake Superior’s got 18 points after the first quarter and 31 at the end of the second and put us behind the eight ball and we had a tough time.

“I thought we played extremely hard against Ferris. We’re putting Band-Aids on injuries that need a tourniquet to be honest with you. Our bodies are just pretty much shot from that standpoint of being able to put the quality of player we need out there to beat teams, or compete with teams like Ferris and probably Grand Valley (State) and other teams like that.”

Fast break points were also a big factor in the Wildcats’ loss to Ferris as the Bulldogs beat them 19-3 in that category.

“That’s the way they play,” Mattson said. “We knew that was going to happen. If you don’t make shots and you turn the ball over, they’re going to fast break it right down your throat and it pretty much happened in the second quarter. They got a pretty good jump on us. Again, I thought we played hard against Ferris and we played a really good first quarter. But in the second quarter, they got out in transition. When they’re in transition, they finish plays and it’s tough to stay with them.”

In regard to the injuries, how bad have they gotten for the Wildcats? Mattson didn’t mince words in his assessment.

“It’s bad,” he said. “I don’t know if Erin (Honkala) is going to be able to function to the point where she’s going to be able to help us that much. I don’t even know if she’ll play Thursday night. Liz (Lutz) is probably not going to play Thursday night and Jessica (Schultz) was in for X-rays on Monday, looking at a potential broken hand, but it came back negative. But it’s on her shooting hand, so she’s probably not going to be able to do anything till the game time. I know she’ll play, but I don’t know how much we’ll play her against Grand Valley.”

All of this may be difficult to swallow, but the Wildcats are still in good shape when it comes to the GLIAC Tournament. NMU is in fifth place and is one game behind Wisconsin Parkside for the final home playoff spot, but its first game this week is against GVSU (23-2, 15-2) Thursday. With the Wildcats’ injuries, earning an upset win over the Lakers may be difficult to pull off, but a win over Davenport (7-18, 2-15) could help Northern potentially lock up a playoff spot.

“Honestly, I don’t want to sit there and try to think that we’re going to go and we’re in the condition or position that we’re going to be able to compete with the No. 6 team in the country for 40 minutes and then turn around and try to beat Davenport on Saturday,” Mattson said. “I’m going to try to load up for Saturday and see if we can get Erin some minutes and see if we can get Liz out there on Saturday. It’s a really important game for us to win just to keep separation from the teams that are behind us. If I go and spend all our energy on Thursday night and continue to get people hurt, we’re not going to be able to play on Saturday. I’m going to take a chance that we can maybe win on Saturday and it’s not going to be easy because Davenport is playing way better. So basically, (that’s) what I’m going to attempt to do. I’ve got to convince my players that though.”

NMU hosts GVSU at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Davenport at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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