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Up and down weekend: Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team splits with Ferris State

Northern Michigan University’s Makaylee Kuhn, left, drives to the basket as Ferris State's Ellie Dykstra defends and the Bulldogs’ Kaydn Blanchard is behind the play during the fourth quarter of their GLIAC women’s basketball game played Saturday afternoon at the PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

MARQUETTE — In the days before this weekend’s series with Ferris State, Northern Michigan University women’s basketball head coach Troy Mattson talked about the importance of better shooting and grabbing more rebounds.

On Saturday, the Wildcats did better in both categories as they outrebounded the Bulldogs 37-19 and shot 53 percent from the field on their way to a 77-61 win. Makaylee Kuhn led NMU with 31 points, while Elena Alaix (17) and Liz Lutz (11) both finished in double figures.

NMU had a chance to sweep the weekend Sunday, but was plagued by turnovers as a second-half comeback fell short in a 66-64 defeat.

Kuhn again led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points, while Emily

Mueller had 13 after being held scoreless Saturday.

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Northern Michigan University's Makaylee Kuhn, left, drives to the basket past Ferris State's Ellie Dykstra as the Bulldogs' Kadyn Blanchard looks on during the fourth quarter of their GLIAC women's game played Saturday afternoon at the PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

Saturday’s victory

“It was better,” Mattson said Saturday about the rebounding in a postgame Zoom interview. “We finally put two or three weeks of practice together here where we’re being a little bit more consistent about the things we’re doing.

“Our biggest emphasis for (Saturday’s) game, I told them, was we need to start rebounding the ball better, because if we don’t we’re not going to beat some teams.

“And we have to rebound the ball better and it was a better concerted effort. I watched a little bit of the first quarter and I see four or five people really going after the rebounds. We need to do that to continue to get better as a basketball team.

“We did get some good play off our bench. I thought Vivianne Jende had a big first half for us. We were kind of sputtering and we weren’t playing real well. We let them back in the game and Vivianne really stepped up before the end of the half.

“And the whole group that was out there with her, they really stepped up and we need that to happen on a consistent basis and I don’t think it’ll just be one person. I think they all have capabilities of helping us and they did a really good job with that.”

Northern held a 19-12 lead after the first quarter on a putback by Alaix, but Ferris rallied early in the second and took the lead on a three-point play by Samantha Krauss to make it 23-22, but Alaix answered with a bucket of her own. With the game tied 27-27, a media timeout with 4:33 left gave the Wildcats a spark as they closed out the half on an 11-0 run highlighted by a trey from Jende to make it 38-27.

When asked if he said anything in the timeout that helped change things around for his squad, Mattson said it was nothing special.

“Nothing that I don’t yell at them about,” he said with a chuckle. “They’re starting to get comfortable with what we’re doing, the young kids, and have a better understanding of what we’re trying to do. So they had a chance to step up and like I said, Vivianne had a big end to the half. She stepped up big and did a really good job along with the other people that were with her.

“A couple other big keys I thought from the game were I kind of challenged Elena and Liz to step up their shooting. They’d been getting some shots, but they haven’t been shooting as high a percentage as we would like to. I thought both of them shot really well today.

“If those two shoot the ball well and with the play of Makaylee and Sam Potter and Emily Mueller, who I’m really happy with, that gives us a fairly strong starting five. We’ve got some weapons.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids coming off the bench, but they had a lot of energy and they’re learning. And they want to learn, that’s the most important thing. They want to learn and they want to get better and they want to help us. So I’m happy with their growth basically in the two or three weeks that we’ve had.”

The ‘Cats built their advantage to 59-40 thanks to a 12-0 surge that included a steal and layup from Kuhn and a triple from Lutz, but the Bulldogs cut their deficit to 59-48 going into the third quarter on a buzzer-beating trey from Mallory McCartney.

NMU wasn’t to be denied, though. A three-point play from Kuhn, a 3-pointer by Taya Stevenson and a free throw from Brooke Kriegl pushed the lead up to 20 at 77-57 and the Wildcats cruised from there.

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Sunday’s loss

Turnovers played a big role in the loss, but Mattson said a lot went wrong for his team in the Sunday rematch.

“It was everything,” he said in that day’s postgame Zoom interview. “First, I’m going to credit Ferris State. They bounced back. They came in and they punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond very well.

“They attacked us on the offensive glass and I could tell at the start of the game their energy level was way up and ours wasn’t matching theirs. They defended us, they pushed us, they shoved us around and we let it happen. We didn’t attack them until late in the game and then turnovers and rebounding were obviously real key issues.

“We did not do a very good job of taking care of the basketball, even when we got back in the game, we didn’t take care of it on a big possession. Two big possessions actually, when we were down one (point), we turned it over twice I think and never got a shot.

“So one, I’m giving Ferris a ton of credit. I thought they played hard. They’ve got a system down and they’re doing well with it and I’m disappointed in the way we responded today in trying to match their energy and their toughness.”

When asked the root cause of that, Mattson said he thought it was because he made them soft the night before.

“I took the blame and I said I won’t take it again,” he said. “I was actually nice to them last night. I sent them a nice group text to everybody, telling them how I proud I was of how they played (Saturday) and how they executed and how they did things right.

“I told them that ain’t happening again because I think I made them soft when I told them that and you can’t be soft when you play sports. You’ve gotta be tough the whole time and I think I gave them a reason to be soft and I think they accepted it.

“And then they got hit right away and they weren’t able to respond. So I told them that’s the last time I do that this year. I’m just going to be tough on them every single day and not give them a break.”

Ferris held a 14-4 lead in the first quarter after a layup by Zoe Anderson, but the ‘Cats clawed back and pulled within four at 16-12 going into the second quarter.

Northern got the Bulldogs’ lead down to two twice in the quarter, the second time a layup by Mueller with 9:04 left, but Ferris kept pulling away and pushed their advantage to double digits at 32-21 on two free throws by Ariel Jenkins. A triple from Anderson with three seconds left put the Bulldogs up 38-26 at the half.

With 7:52 left in the third quarter, Anderson knocked down another 3-pointer to pushed Ferris’ advantage to 18 at 46-28 as FSU still led 52-39 going into the fourth.

But after that, the Wildcats kicked it into gear offensively. With 3:55 left, a trey from Kuhn got the deficit down to single digits at 61-52 and that was followed by layups from Mueller and Samantha Potter. With two free throws from Taya Stevenson, Northern got within three at 61-58 with 2:37 to go.

Then Elena Alaix hit a jumper, getting the deficit down to one with 1:56 left. Jenkins answered with a layup with 23 seconds remaining and Kadyn Blanchard made it 65-61 with four seconds left. Lutz made a triple with one second left to cut it to one, but Blanchard clinched the win with a free throw.

NMU will be on the road for three games this week. The Wildcats travel to Michigan Tech at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and then to Lake Superior State for games at 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday’s game vs. MTU will be televised by Fox-U.P. with all games broadcast by radio station WUPT 100.3 FM The Point.

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

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