NMU women’s hoops: Wildcats nail 15 3-pointers to beat Grand Valley State

MARQUETTE – Playing at home with a 9-2 record and a 20-point lead in the second half, Troy Mattson should’ve had visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in his head.

Instead, the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball coach could only see a Halloween nightmare and yelled himself nearly hoarse trying to prevent it from happening.

It must’ve worked as the Wildcats finished off an 81-66 victory over Grand Valley State on Thursday night.

NMU, now 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the GLIAC, built a 50-28 halftime lead based on the strength of its long-range shooting. The Wildcats made two-thirds of their 3-pointers – 8 of 12 – in the first 20 minutes, every one of them attempted by junior guards Alyssa Colla and Lauren Gruber and freshman guard Bre Gaspervich.

The lead never fell below 20 points throughout the second half until there was 1:26 to go, when the Lakers finished the game with a 9-0 run.

Try telling that to Mattson.

“We’ve had a couple of 20-point leads in the second half only to see them almost disappear already this season,” Mattson said about his second-half worries. “If you want to go to the next level, you’ve got to play tough for the entire 40 minutes.”

One of those nearly blown leads came in the Wildcats’ most recent game, a 55-53 win at Lake Erie on Saturday when Northern won only because the Storm’s final shot missed after NMU had built a 19-point lead during the second half.

“I just don’t want them to get complacent,” he said. “And you can tell when you get complacent if you start turning the ball over, not defending and not getting rebounds.”

Two of those three areas became problems at times in the second half. The Wildcats turned the ball over 11 times after the break, compared to just four times in the first half, and were outrebounded 23-17 in the final 20 minutes.

However, Grand Valley shot really no better in the second half – 38.7 percent from the field compared to 36.7 percent in the first half.

And just as importantly, Northern kept raining in those triples, making 7 of 14 to finish 15 of 26 for 57.7 percent. This was a surprise against a Lakers team that only gave up slightly less than five 3s per game and let opponents make about 30 percent of their long-range tries.

“We didn’t execute the defense we were working on all week,” GVSU coach Janel Burgess said. “Northern played great, but we knew they’re a team that can shoot the 3s.

“They drove inside a couple times early in the game, and we seemed to somehow think they were a post-up team.

“That plus we couldn’t put in a number of cheap baskets.”

Often netting three points at a time turned into collegiate scoring highs for a pair of Wildcats – Colla poured in 25 points, making 5 of 8 from 3-point range, while Gaspervich collected 18 points with 4 of 8 triples made, even though she only played 24 minutes.

“I think it’s just a matter of time for this girl,” Mattson said about the 5-foot-5 Gaspervich, who also pulled in a team-high five rebounds. “She wasn’t voted the No. 1 point guard in Wisconsin for nothing. She can just flat out play on the offensive end.

“Tonight, she had someone she could go up against,” he added, alluding to GVSU’s shorter guards.

Lost in the personal records was the contribution made by Gruber, who totaled 19 points while hitting 4 of 5 triples.

Mattson felt fortunate to have Colla even dress for the game after she suffered what the coach termed “a fairly severe” concussion in the second half of Saturday’s game.

“We didn’t know for sure we’d have her available,” he said, noting that while she passed a post-concussion test on Monday, she needed to be free of other post-concussion symptoms since then, too.

“This was the first time I’ve been running this week, since I wasn’t allowed to practice with the team this week,” Colla said, “so I didn’t know what to expect during the game.”

She said she saw something in the Lakers’ defense that gave her Wildcats open looks from the perimeter.

“They did a lot switching on their ball screens, and I think they were a step slow and gave us open looks for a second,” Colla said.

Gruber opened the scoring with a traditional bucket-and-free-throw 3-point play and Colla made a couple layups before the latter sank Northern’s first triple less than five minutes into the game. When the Wildcats swished the fifth in a series of 3-pointers during a 4 1/2-minute stretch not much later, they led 24-11 and kept the lead in double digits the rest of the way.