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Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team splits a deck of (Saginaw Valley State) Cards(inals): NMU women bounce back with Sunday victory over Cardinals, 61-45

Northern Michigan University's Makaylee Kuhn, right, leads a fast break as Saginaw Valley State's Maddie Maloney trails during the first quarter on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, at the NMU practice gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“We have to be a great passing team (that leads) to shots because we don’t have a lot of creators with the basketball.” — Troy Mattson, head coach, NMU women’s basketball

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MARQUETTE — Heading into Sunday’s game against Saginaw Valley State, Northern Michigan University head women’s basketball coach Troy Mattson emphasized the importance of better passing after his squad struggled the previous afternoon vs. the same Cardinals team.

The Wildcats improved dramatically in that area and also used their fast break effectively as they took down SVSU 61-45. Makaylee Kuhn led NMU with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

“We had a great film session this morning,” Mattson said in a Zoom interview on Sunday. “I think the girls were almost like in awe with what they saw (Saturday). That’s not how we’re supposed to play and I thought we did a great job in the half-court offense passing the basketball. I think we had 12 or 13 assists compared to the supposed four we had (Saturday).

Northern Michigan University's Peyton Wright, right, leads a fast break as Saginaw Valley State's Jessica Massey trails during the first quarter Sunday at the NMU practice gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“But just looking for our teammates is really important, and getting us to believe that we have to be a great passing team to lead to shots because we don’t have a lot of creators with the basketball.

“And I really put the onus on Makaylee and Emily Mueller to make plays with the basketball in their hands that are going to involve their teammates and I thought they did.

“And I thought we moved the ball well and we got open shots for the majority of the (game).”

Northern was outscored 32-12 at the point Saturday, but on Sunday, they beat the Cardinals in that category, 18-8, and Mattson said that topic was mentioned before the game.

“It was a topic of conversation (Sunday) morning,” he said with a laugh. “I was happy with the way we executed the game plan on both ends, both defensively and offensively.

“Like I said, we had to make adjustments on both ends. They were simple, but they were really important to our success today.

“Like I said, the girls have to do it, or else it doesn’t matter, and I thought they did a great job of executing in basically all three phases that we were looking at here.

“Defensively, we made some pretty good adjustments, and then again, the transition baskets, keeping them out of the paint a little bit more, hard to score around the basket.

“And then just us executing on the offensive end, and passing the basketball. It was a big step for us, hopefully, going forward.”

On Sunday, the Cardinals grabbed a 10-4 advantage in the first quarter after a 3-pointer by Jessica Massey, but the Wildcats got two baskets from Mueller and a layup from Samantha Potter to tie it 10-10 heading into the second.

The Wildcats took their first lead at 12-10 on another bucket from Mueller and stayed ahead the rest of the way. A triple by Kayla Tierney put Northern up by double digits at 28-17 and took that lead into the half.

Saginaw cut its deficit to five with 4:21 left in the third quarter at 35-30 on a trey from McKenna Bent, but that’s the closest the Cards would get.

NMU closed out the quarter on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a three-point play from Elena Alaix, to continue holding a 44-30 advantage entering the final period.

After the Cardinals got within eight with 5:40 left at 47-39, Northern pumped in its free throws down the stretch to put the game away. The Wildcats finished 19 of 19 from the line.

It appeared that NMU was also on its way to a victory early in Saturday’s game. The ‘Cats held a 22-12 lead after one quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer from Alaix, and built it up to 30-14 in the second on a triple by Liz Lutz. The Wildcats still held a 10-point lead, 32-22, at halftime.

With 4:35 left in the third, the Cardinals whittled their deficit to two at 37-35 on a jumper from Victoria Stafford. Up by four at 42-38 to start the fourth, the Wildcats started to fall apart as SVSU needed less than a minute of the final period to take the lead for good when Maddie Maloney knocked down a trey for a 45-42 lead.

NMU got within three with 32 seconds left at 55-52 on a layup by Kuhn, but SVSU finished the job. Kuhn led the ‘Cats with 18 points.

“I guess it was a story of two halves,” Mattson said Saturday. “We came out, we executed well on the defensive end, held them to 22 points and executed fairly well. Made some shots to start the first half and played well. We had 27 points with just a little over the first quarter, so we really played well for awhile.

“And then they made some adjustments and we didn’t do a very good job of passing the basketball. For some reason, we decided that each person was going to do this on their own and try to score on them when there was double and triple teams on them.

“And we had people open much of the second half and did not make the extra pass, and because of it, you get yourself in trouble. They (the Wildcats) didn’t score very much in the second half and it was because of the pass. We did not pass the basketball to our teammates and it’s something we need to learn.”

Northern remains home to host Ferris State this weekend at 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

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

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