Not a Valentine: Grand Valley State soundly sweeps Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team

Northern Michigan University’s Ana Rhude, center, tries to drive to the basket around Grand Valley State’s Rylie Bisballe as Lakers’ teammate Hannah Kulas, right, looks on during the second quarter of their GLIAC women's basketball game played Saturday at NMU’s PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“The real telltale sign of where your program is at is when you play the best teams.” — Troy Mattson, NMU women’s basketball head coach,

on playing now 12-1 Grand Valley State over the weekend


MARQUETTE — Playing basketball on Valentine’s Day weekend means definitely hoping for a gift or at least a happy memory.

The Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team didn’t get either as they were swept decisively by Grand Valley State, 61-34 on Saturday and 58-32 on Sunday.

On Saturday, NMU (7-6) fell behind early and couldn’t keep up with the Lakers (12-1). Not only that, but GVSU’s defensive pressure forced the ‘Cats into 21 turnovers and left head coach Troy Mattson shaking his head in the postgame remote press conference.

Northern Michigan University's Makaylee Kuhn, second from right, leads a fast break as Grand Valley State's Brooke McKinley, right, defends and teammates Samantha Gehrls, left, and Emily Spitzley race back during the fourth quarter of their GLIAC women's basketball game played Saturday at NMU's PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“We start out the game and we turned it over like five of our first six possessions, we don’t even get a shot,” he said. “This is all on us, and Grand Valley, I guess.

“First of all, (Grand Valley is) very good and they’re physically mature. They’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room. That’s the first question I asked coach (Mike) Williams after the game, I said ‘How much time do you guys spend in the weight room?’ He said ‘Probably more than ever’ and you can tell.

“Their juniors and their sophomores are very physical and very strong, very athletic. And they’re very connected defensively. They’re very well coached, extremely well coached, and they showed it.

“And we got frazzled early on in the game. I think we were ready to play. I never doubt that with these girls. They’ve been awesome about everything that we’ve done so far, but I think we got caught up in the speed of their defense, how strong and how athletic they are. And we weren’t ready from that standpoint, compared to the teams that we’ve been playing.

“And credit Grand Valley for having their team looking like that and playing like that. It’s obviously, in the next couple of years, hopefully that we can look like that. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the weight room and a lot of maturing to do and that’s what they look like, a very mature basketball team.”

The Lakers grabbed a 9-2 lead in the first quarter before Ishpeming High School alumna Madigan Johns hit a jumper with 4:07 left. GVSU eventually built its lead to 16-9 heading into the second and got it to double digits on a 3-pointer by Brooke McKinley with 8:22 remaining at 19-9.

The Lakers slowly pushed their advantage to 20 at 33-13 on a Rylie Bisballe trey with 3:32 left before taking a 35-20 lead into halftime.

GVSU pushed its advantage up to 24 at 48-24 with 3:26 left in the third quarter and cruised from there.

Makaylee Kuhn led the Wildcats with 13 points as NMU struggled with its shooting, especially from 3-point range, going 2 for 16.

“We weren’t going to get many good looks out there,” Mattson said. “They can defend and they really attack you on the 3-point line. And what happens is we’ve been used to shooting over smaller players the last few weeks. We weren’t shooting over smaller players today and they were very aggressive to get to us. They know we’ve shot well from the 3-point line; they made it a great commitment to get to us and they really bothered our shooting and we weren’t able to get many good looks.

“We didn’t get the ball inside enough to pull their defense in to get good looks, especially early on. I thought toward late in the game, we made a better effort to get the ball inside, so that we could open up the outside a little bit.

“But hey, my freshmen and sophomores have to look like their juniors and sophomores in a couple of years. That’s what we are going to try to do.

“They’re physically tougher than us. They’ve played together. They’re mentally tougher than us and I don’t think it’s going to change that much overnight, but I think we can make improvements.”

Sunday didn’t go any better for Northern. The Wildcats were down 15-4 after one quarter and 29-14 at halftime. The Lakers bumped their lead to 20 at 38-18 with 7:57 left in the third quarter and didn’t let up.

Kuhn was the offensive leader again for NMU, though this time with just nine points.

Mattson said his team tried to make adjustments and improve pregame, but ultimately, the Lakers were just the better, more experienced team over the weekend.

“It’s the same as (Saturday),” he said in his Sunday postgame presser. “When we watched the film, my feeling after the game (Saturday) was we did not compete hard enough to compete with a team like Grand Valley, and at least I think we got the point across that we competed harder (Sunday), even though the outcome wasn’t much different. Defensively, I thought we did a better job, for the most part.

“We have a long way to go, I understand that. The real telltale sign of where your program is at is when you play the best teams, because we want to be, we strive to be like Grand Valley, and we strive to be like Ashland over the past few years.

“And we’re obviously not there. There’s a lot that you can sit there and point fingers at, but the real thing is playing without Emily (Mueller) and Elena (Alaix), two upperclassmen that have played in a lot of games like this. And not having them out there and relying on freshmen to run your offense through, you’re going to have nights like this, and unfortunately we had two in a row.

“But Grand Valley is a good basketball team. They’re coached, like I said (Saturday), extremely well. Defense is a priority for them … defense is a priority for us, we just have not had the amount of reps over the past season and the amount of time to spend in the gym trying to become an elite defensive team like Grand Valley.

“Until that happens, we will struggle at times. We think we have the athletes, we think we have the basketball players here. It’s just a matter of when it will all happen … this is a process, this takes years.

“I’ve always said it’s hard to win with freshmen and we’re trying to win with freshmen and sophomores out on the court. So they’re getting a lot of experience and like I said, the only way to find out where you’re at is to play the best and the best showed us where we need to get, and hopefully we can get there someday.”

The Wildcats host Michigan Tech at 7:30 p.m. today before heading to Grand Rapids to play at Davenport on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

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


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