Northern Michigan women’s basketball team unable to upset No. 1 Ashland

MARQUETTE – Head coach Troy Mattson said three things had to happen for the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team to knock off the No. 1-ranked Ashland Eagles on Thursday night.

“One, we had to make sure they got no transition baskets,” Mattson said. “I don’t think they got very many transition baskets.

“Secondly, I said we had to make sure they got no offensive rebound baskets, because they’re an incredible offensive rebounding team.

“The third thing was we had to make shots,” he added. “I said if all three things don’t fall into place for us, we weren’t going to win.”

The ‘Cats (4-2 GLIAC, 7-3 overall) made good on the first two parts of the plan, holding the top-ranked NCAA team in Division II to four fast break points and eight offensive boards.

But NMU struggled to put the ball in the basket, losing 63-44 to the Eagles at the Berry Events Center. Lauren Gruber led the Wildcats offensively with 12 points.

“The only problem we had was we didn’t finish shots in and around the basket.” Mattson said. “It really affected the game because we had the ball in there plenty of times and we had pretty good looks inside.

“We just didn’t get the ball to go in enough in there.”

The Wildcats got the looks they wanted in the post early in the first half, but were unable to finish as the Eagles took a 33-16 halftime lead.

Mattson said the early struggles changed the outcome of the game.

“I think we were 1-10 in the post in the first half and that’s not good enough,” Mattson said. “If it goes in the post 10 times, you better score 50 percent of the time.

“If that would have happened, that’s eight or 10 more points and we’ve got ourselves a ball game.”

On the defensive end, the Wildcats had to battle with reigning GLIAC Player of the Year Kari Daugherty. The senior forward and Division I transfer poured in 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

NMU sophomore forward Maria Almquist of Hancock spent a majority of the second half guarding Daugherty, who has recorded a double-double in 31 straight games.

The ‘Cats made a switch midway through the second half and started fronting Daugherty, which Almquist said helped slow her attack.

“It was very challenging. She’s an incredible player,” Almquist said. “I thought that fronting her in the second half helped a lot.

“The first half was a little bit more challenging, but I thought the people who guarded her really took it to her all night and didn’t really give her an easy look.”

The Wildcats rarely brought a double team on Daugherty because of the Eagles’ shooting ability. Last year in the GLIAC tournament, NMU doubled Daugherty, but got burned from the outside as Lindsay Tenyak hit 7-of-8 from beyond the arc.

“You can’t double team anything. They’re an incredible team,” Almquist said. “All of them can make shots. There’s no weakness.”

The Eagles (6-0 GLIAC, 13-0 overall) have racked up 39 straight regular season wins, including 28 regular season victories against GLIAC opponents.

The Wildcats made a push in the second half as they cut the Ashland lead to 13 with just over five minutes left. NMU didn’t get any closer, but Mattson said his team gained experience playing a team of Ashland’s caliber.

“It helps us a ton, especially with freshmen and sophomores having to compete against the best team and knowing we weren’t all that far off except for finishing shots,” Mattson said.