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Needing to improve overnight: Coach Troy Mattson wants to see more as Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team hosts Davenport tonight in GLIAC tourney

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 basketball game played Jan. 23 at the PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“The only way you’re going to be able to win in this tournament

is to play great defense.” — Troy Mattson, NMU women’s basketball head coach, on the GLIAC Tournament

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MARQUETTE — When a basketball team enters the playoffs, it needs to be playing at its best if it wants to keep its season alive.

However, that might not be the case for the Northern Michigan University women’s squad, at least if you ask head coach Troy Mattson.

Northern Michigan University's Taya Stevenson, center left, drives past Michigan Tech's Kylie Mogen, left, as Ellie Mackay closes in during the first quarter on Feb. 16 at the NMU PEIF gym in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

The Wildcats (10-8) have won their last three games, including a home sweep of Purdue Northwest over the weekend, but they haven’t been dominant with one exception — Makaylee Kuhn, who earned GLIAC North Player of the Week for the third time this year.

Mattson has been especially displeased with how his squad has played defensively and said that will have to improve quickly as the seventh-seeded ‘Cats open the GLIAC Tournament at 6 p.m. today against No. 10 seed Davenport (5-13).

“We’re not good enough right now,” he said in Monday’s Zoom interview. “It’s hard to say that at the end of the year because at the end of the year, you’d like to be at the top of your game in everything that you’re trying to do, but again, this just transpires from everything that’s gone on this year.

“We’ve just not had the (repetitions) to be able to practice what we need to do defensively throughout the season. This isn’t something you just do on a whim or in a couple of weeks. This is months’ worth of work that we did not get and we’re playing so many young people and new people, we’re just not doing a good enough job.

“And the only way you’re going to be able to win in this tournament is to play great defense and we’ll find out if we’re able to make some slight adjustments here and there to kind of give ourselves an opportunity, but overall, it’s not good enough right now.”

Mattson feels a little better about how Northern has played offensively, but it’s still not at the level that he’s hoping for entering the tournament.

“The big thing was turnovers,” he said. “We’ve been struggling with turnovers throughout much of the season, and this weekend we had 10 on Friday and 13 on Saturday, so we’ve been trying to concentrate on that part and we did a better job with that.

“But we weren’t really running a heck of a lot of offense. We were just giving the ball to Makaylee and giving her a pick and say ‘Go score.’ And the other team wasn’t making any adjustments and it’s not how we want to play. We want more involvement from everybody, but if somebody is going to guard us like that and they don’t want to try to stop her with more than one person, then we’re going to take advantage of that.

“And that’s pretty much what happened all weekend, and fortunately she’s a good enough player to handle that right now. If she wasn’t good enough, we probably would’ve got two losses, to be honest with you, because the rest of the people were struggling to get a lot of things done.

“I saw a couple of their nice little points. I thought Vivianne Jende had another real nice game. Consistency for freshmen is the hardest thing and she has poked her head out a few times and had some big games. Down in Northwood, she had a huge game and I thought she had a big game for us here. She was the other person that we were trying to get isolated one-on-one against them and see if she could get the ball to the rim and she was able to on a consistent basis.

“We’re not a great basketball team right now. We are still trying to learn how to get better and we’ve got 24 hours basically to figure this thing out to give ourselves an opportunity.”

The good thing for NMU is that it played Davenport downstate two weeks ago and came out with a split, so Mattson is feeling a little better about that, but emphasized that the Wildcats have to pass the basketball if they want to beat the Panthers.

“It basically was kind of a turning point for us, I think,” he said. “We played them on the Friday and I’ve been constantly harping on our people to pass the basketball all season. The recent situation of getting double-teamed and triple-teamed, and we weren’t doing it, and we got beat.

“And we had a great meeting on Saturday morning before the game, lasted about two hours and we went over their stuff and we talked about us passing the ball to our teammates that weren’t double- or triple-teamed and I thought we made some progress in that area.

“And we’re going to need to do the same thing. There’s no way, of the teams that are remaining in this tournament, are going to sit here and watch Makaylee Kuhn score 30-some points. They are going to try and stop her, so she needs to accept that challenge and she has.

“And we need to deliver the ball to the other people and the other people need to step up and make plays and I think that’s when our offense is best, to be honest with you. I feel more comfortable when we’re passing the basketball, so we’re going to have to really talk about it a lot today, talk about it again tomorrow.

“We’re not going to get a lot of reps, we’re not going to get a lot of practice. We have to pass the basketball. (Kuhn’s) going to get double- and triple-teamed from here on out.”

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

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