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Wildcats, Bulldogs square off: Northern Michigan University Wildcats women, men hoops teams face Ferris State Bulldogs

Northern Michigan University’s Emily Mueller, top, passes the ball as Saginaw Valley State’s Victoria Stafford defends during the fourth quarter on Sunday at the NMU PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

MARQUETTE — Both Northern Michigan University basketball teams are four games into the season and each appears to be moving in the right direction.

The NMU women are 3-1 after splitting a home series with Saginaw Valley State last weekend, bouncing back with a win Sunday after a disappointing defeat the day before.

Looking back on the weekend, Wildcats head coach Troy Mattson said in Monday’s Zoom interview that he had the same feelings as he did 24 hours earlier about his team’s performance.

“I had a chance to watch film last night,” he said. “I thought we had great effort in all areas.

“And like I said the night before from Saturday’s game to Sunday, we needed to pass the ball. And it was a really concerted effort by our team to pass the ball to the open people and then try to make shots.

“I still think we can shoot better. People are still trying to find their legs and I think the speed of the game compared to what happened the eight to 12 days of practice that we’ve had has really affected a couple of my shooters.

“But the passing was much better. I think we went from four assists, supposedly, to 12 assists. That’s an improvement. We did an incredible job on the free throw line, obviously, 19 for 19.

“I think we need to rebound the ball better. We were rebounding the ball well the week before, but now we’re going to face some bigger and more physical people and we need to rebound the basketball better.

“But I was pretty happy with the effort on Sunday.”

For the NMU men, they sit at 2-2 and are coming off their own split with the Cardinals on the road. The Wildcats were dealt a tough loss Friday, but came together Saturday to take down one of the most talented teams in the GLIAC.

“I was actually just telling Troy, I think when you go lose-win, it’s a little better feeling coming out of the weekend than when you go win-loss,” Northern head coach Matt Majkrzak said Monday about the order of the games. “Ending on the positive just brings you kind of happier feelings overall.

“But I thought we played a lot, lot, lot better. Saginaw is really talented. They’re one of the most talented teams in the league.

“Going on the road there, especially playing them, they were kind of angry coming out of the Grand Valley (State) series (a pair of losses). I thought we got their best shot, especially on Friday, and we actually played very, very well on Friday, I thought good enough to win against most teams.

“And then I was happy that we were able to also play well on Saturday and then they played a little less well and we were able to get the win in that one.

“But overall, I thought we were a lot better, a lot tougher. We got back to defending the way we wanted to defend and I thought we were in better shape Week 2 than we were in Week 1 as well.

“So a lot of positives on the weekend. Obviously, wish we would’ve gotten both (wins), but happy to at least get one.”

Majkrzak also said the team has improved on its full-court press after introducing it during a rally against Wisconsin-Parkside the week before.

“We used it both nights,” he said. “The first night, it kind of fueled our comeback. We went from down 18 (points) to, had it to four for quite a bit. Just couldn’t get over the hump, but yeah, our full-court pressure stuff was good.

“We still don’t have … (a) lot of the varieties, or any of that kind of stuff, but if you play hard and you guard the ball, that sometimes is all you need.”

The men remain on the road and will need to be sharp against this week’s opponent, Ferris State, as it’s always a tough battle with the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-2 GLIAC). However, the Wildcats have beaten Ferris on its own court, including in last year’s GLIAC Tournament, so Majkrzak thinks his Wildcats shouldn’t be intimidated.

“I think the two back-to-back road trips downstate (are) always kind of one of the tougher things we have to do here and to have the second of that be two games in a row against Ferris is about as tough a weekend as you could ask for,” Majkrzak said. “But … they’ve been up and down. They’ve struggled more than they have in the past. With that being said, I think we’re going to get their absolute ‘A’ effort at home. It’s their first home weekend. They’ve been on the road the last two. So I think we’re going to get a very intense Ferris team.

“They’re always well-coached, they always have a ton of talent. But I think they’re just trying to figure it out. They’re similar to us where they were one of the schools that had some limited practice time and you can see they’re missing some shots they normally make.

“And we’ve just got to kind of hope that they have one more weekend of not shooting the ball well, and hopefully we can get our shooting fixed…. I know they’re going to come out of their slump at some point and we’ve just got to make sure it’s not against us.

“I don’t think Ferris is going to take us for granted. I think they’re going to be ready to play. I think playing three times in a row the last two seasons, I definitely think it’s became a little bit of a rivalry because we have had some success.

“You hope that the best program in the league has a little bit of a rivalry with you because it means you’re doing some things right, and hopefully we can, for the third year in a row, go down there and get a win in their gym.

“It’s going to take our best effort, but I think knowing that we’ve done it before definitely gives us a little bit of confidence going into it that it can be done.”

For the women, they’ll also be facing the Bulldogs (1-3), but the games will be in Marquette. On Monday, Mattson said he hadn’t seem any Ferris film yet, but he knew it won’t be easy to get two wins this weekend as the Bulldogs put up 82 and 91 points in their games against Parkside last week.

“I don’t know much about them right now going in,” he said. “I started watching film here this week on them and they’ve played well. They’ve played well. They played well last weekend against Parkside, they averaged 90 points a game.

“They have a freshman that’s scoring in the high 20s (Kadyn Blanchard). I don’t know her, I’ve never seen her, so we’re going to have to do our best on scouting her.

“And they have a great point guard (Mallory McCartney) … she was a freshman last year.

“I’m interested in seeing what they’ve got. They’ve got a new coach, so I don’t know anything about them at the present time other than they’d played well this weekend and I’m sure it’s going to be a very similar series to the Saginaw series for us.”

The women play at 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday at the PEIF gym, while the men take the court in Big Rapids at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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

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