NMU women’s hoops: Wildcats overcome early turnover troubles, roll into GLIAC semifinals

MARQUETTE Despite turnover trouble in the first half, the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team breezed by Northwood, 82-64, in the GLIAC quarterfinals on Wednesday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.

The ‘Cats (20-7 overall, 17-6 in the GLIAC) advance to the semifinals hosted by Wayne State in Detroit this weekend, where they will play Michigan Tech at 3:07 p.m. on Saturday.

“I’m really impressed with the way we’re playing right now,” NMU head coach Troy Mattson said. “We’ve got things under control on both ends of the court and hopefully we can continue to do it.”

With nine turnovers in the first half, Mattson said the Wildcats made some poor passing decisions against a strong Northwood (14-13, 12-11) defense.

“They were pressuring out on us a little bit and they knocked some passes down,” Mattson said. “When they got out in transition, they hurt us by scoring baskets, and that’s why we were struggling a little bit.”

The lead changed on four occasions in the first half, but neither team led by more than seven points with NMU entering halftime leading 33-26.

“Northwood’s a really good defensive team and executed by knowing our plays,” NMU junior Lauren Gruber said. “They were kind of beating us to the spots and we couldn’t really run what we wanted.”

The Wildcats hit their stride in the second half as their field goal percentage jumped from 43.5 to 60.9 percent.

Just over three minutes into the second half, NMU scored 10 unanswered points to go up 19 over Northwood. From there, the ‘Cats maintained a double-figure lead for the remainder of the game.

“Once we got the game settled down and started moving the basketball around, I thought we did a really good job of executing, getting the ball to people and finishing plays,” Mattson said.

“We were able to get enough stops and defensive rebounds, and they really played well on the offensive end.”

Junior Abbey DeBruin and senior Annie Rubendunst led the offense with season-highs of 25 and 23 points, respectively.

DeBruin said the Timberwolves were forced to double in on the post, which often left her open to shoot.

“We are a good team posting out, so if they wanted to stop us, they knew they had to send somebody,” DeBruin said. “It happened to be the girl who was guarding me, so I tried to make cuts and take advantage of it.”

Mattson said he knew DeBruin was going to be a special player when he recruited her, but Rubendunst’s success this year has been the real surprise. The senior had not seen much playing time in her first three years, but has worked her way into the top of the lineup.

“I told her, ‘I’m going to commit to you, and you need to be the player I know you can be,'” Mattson said. “She’s gone above and beyond my wildest imagination as to how well she’s playing right now.”

Junior Lauren Gruber led the Wildcats with 11 boards and three assists on the night. Mattson said Gruber makes an impact every single day, whether it’s in practice or a game.

“She’s a coach’s dream,” Mattson said. “She’s our energy, she’s our toughness, she’s our vocal leader. She makes plays no matter what end of the court, and she’s a real special player for me.”

For the Timberwolves, Gabrielle Rivette led with 20 points, while Emily Kutch, Lauren Robak and Sarah Susan scored 12 apiece.

The Wildcats travel downstate this weekend to play the Huskies, who defeated Saginaw Valley, 69-63 in overtime, on Thursday to advance to the semifinals.

NMU defeated Tech last Thursday, Feb. 27, and the ongoing rivalry is fresh in the Wildcats’ minds.

“We know what plays Tech’s going to run and we know what we have to do to stop it,” DeBruin said. “It’s the same for them too, but it’s going to come down to which team goes out there and works the hardest for it.”