NMU women put Northwood in rear view mirror of GLIAC playoff chase

MARQUETTE – Just like last season, the Northern Michigan women’s basketball team’s postseason hopes hung on their final weekend at home, and just like last season the Wildcats took care of business on their home floor, putting themselves in position to earn a GLIAC Tournament bid.

After knocking off LSSU 64-53 on Thursday, NMU (13-12 overall, 10-11 GLIAC) won 71-56 over a Northwood team that was in a similar position, holding the final tournament spot heading into the weekend.

The Timberwolves topped the Wildcats 65-52 a month earlier in downstate Midland.

“Obviously there is a lot of pressure,” said sophomore guard Alyssa Colla. “Going into this game we knew what we had to do. They were in the same situation as we were. Basically whoever is winning this game is probably going to get into the tournament so it was huge. I think we played really well today.”

Colla, who leads the ‘Cats in scoring at 13.3 points per game, did her usual damage on the offensive end, pouring in a game high 21 points. However most of those points came from the block as Colla took advantage of the smaller Northwood backcourt.

“When we get smaller guards in this league – Alyssa is 5-foot-11 – so we just slide her in there and let her go to work in the post,” said head coach Troy Mattson. “Our big girls can shoot so it really stretches the defense and gives her a lot of room to move around and work in there and I thought she handled herself well in the post.”

With 4:37 left in the game, Northwood guard and leading scorer Rachel Church picked up her fourth foul. With that in mind Colla and the ‘Cats went right at Church in the paint.

“I work in the post during practices a little bit and I knew Church, one of their best players, was guarding me and she had four fouls at the end there so I was just trying to get into her and let her get her fifth,” Colla said.

The last time the two teams played, the Timberwolves doubled the post, forcing NMU into 21 3-point attempts. Today the ‘Cats only attempted six shots from downtown, a result Mattson was pleased with.

“We were finding the mismatches, but that’s how we’ve been playing lately,” Mattson said. “If they’re not going to double in, we’re going to go one-on-one and tonight it was go one-on-one. They weren’t going to let us shoot 3s. I wasn’t worried about it, I would rather play in the post anyways.”

The strategy paid off as the ‘Cats worked the ball into the paint forcing Northwood into 22 fouls. NMU buried 23-of-28 from the charity stripe to seal the game.

“I think that might have been our best 40 minutes of basketball all year,” Mattson said. “We defended great the majority of the night and executed extremely well on the offensive end. Our bench was huge today, as they were on Thursday night.”

A trio of sophomores paced the bench scoring as sophomore guard Sarah Miller poured in 10 points, on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. Sophomore forward Brooke Coenen added nine points and sophomore forward Maria Almquist chipped in seven.

Mattson said the recent play from his forwards has been crucial to winning.

“Where we’ve made some improvements here in the last couple weeks is probably because of Brooke Coenen in the post and getting some play out of Maria Almquist,” Mattson said.

Sophomore forward Abbey DeBruin also netted 12 points for the ‘Cats, who wrap up the regular season on the road against Michigan Tech in six days on Saturday.

“We need to go up there and beat Michigan Tech and hope we can get in,” Mattson said. “It’s really tough up at Tech. We’ll accept the challenge right now. We’re playing as good as we have all year.”