NMU women’s hoops: Wildcats face similar-style opponent to open NCAA Midwest Regional

MARQUETTE – It sounds like the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team is busing and flying to Missouri this week just to look in the mirror.

The Wildcats have a lot on the line, of course, with the start of the 64-team NCAA Division II tournament on Friday night against Quincy (Ill.) University.

They were scheduled to take a bus from Marquette to Green Bay, Wis., on this morning, then catch a plane to Springfield in southwestern Missouri for the eight-team Midwest Regional that begins for the ‘Cats at 9:30 p.m. EDT on Friday.

But studying “quite a few hours” of film has already given NMU head coach Troy Mattson a definite feel for the Hawks’ style.

“They actually don’t do things much differently than we do,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “We are a little bit bigger at a few positions, like wing and point guard.

“Like us, they have some good shooters, but they’re not overly quick. They’ll put a little bit of pressure on you defensively.”

The opponent’s resumes look quite similar, too. Quincy, located in a city of the same name on the Mississippi River in central Illinois, has a 22-6 overall record compared to Northern’s 22-7.

While the Hawks finished second in their division and third overall in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, NMU tied for second both overall in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the in league’s North Division.

The major difference was that while the Wildcats won the GLIAC tournament title, Quincy was upset during its league tournament semifinals.

So not surprisingly, they’ve earned regional seedings next to each other, No. 4 for the Wildcats and No. 5 for Quincy.

The Hawks under third-year coach Jeni Garber are a high-scoring team, averaging 77 points per game while giving up 67. They also shoot well, making 46 percent overall from the field, 37 percent on 3-pointers and 77 percent of free throws.

And while Quincy nabs eight steals a game, it commits more than 15 turnovers each contest.

Northern’s numbers in these areas are the same or a little lower, with an average score of 69-62, 42 percent shooting from the field, 33 percent on 3s and 77 percent of free throws.

The ‘Cats average five steals and about 14 1/2 turnovers a game.

Individual statistics show Quincy has a deep rotation, with 5-foot-8 senior guard Lucy Cramsey’s 28 minutes (of 40 played in regulation) easily the most on the team. She led the team in scoring for the second straight season at 13.6 points per game and also rebounding with 7.5 a contest.

Senior 6-4 center Hannah Weedman is the only other Hawk scoring in double figures at 12.1 ppg, though seven others average at least five ppg.

In contrast, Northern junior guards Alyssa Colla and Lauren Gruber play right around 35 minutes a game as Colla averages 16.3 ppg. Then Gruber, senior forward Annie Rubendunst and junior forward Abbey DeBruin each average 9 to 10 ppg.

Not counting the injured Anna Liewen, five Wildcats average four to six rebounds per game, with DeBruin tops with a 6.0 average. Each of the eight participating teams in the region – just Northern and No. 6 Wayne State made it from the GLIAC with the balance from the GLVC – will have to win three games in four days to go on to the NCAA Elite Eight national finals.

That would extend an NMU winning streak that now stands at 10 games and began Feb. 6 at Grand Valley State. It includes three wins in the GLIAC Women’s Basketball Tournament, the school’s first title in that event since 2000.

This recent success gives Mattson and his team confidence in their first appearance in the national tourney since 2010.

“We’re excited that we are playing as well as we can play,” Mattson said. “The key to our success is that we’re playing good defense every time down the court and we’re rebounding well. Offensively, we’re finishing our shots.

“At certain times this season, we weren’t always doing those things.”

Specifically, during a 1-5 streak for much of January that immediately preceded the current win streak.

“I don’t think we can get a whole lot better,” the coach said. “But if there was one area we can improve on, it would be shooting the ball well. That will be important if we want to beat some of the great teams in this tournament.”

Like who is looming on Sunday if the Wildcats win Friday night – either No. 1 seed and tourney host Drury (24-3), regular season champion of the GLVC, or No. 8 Truman State (22-8) of Missouri, which won the GLVC tournament title.

The championship game is set for Monday against a team from the opposite side of the bracket, which includes Wayne State (21-7) and No. 2 seeded Lewis University (22-5), the only teams in the regional that the Wildcats have faced this season.

Northern split with the GLIAC regular-season champs, losing 75-72 in Detroit during late January and winning 84-69 in Marquette during mid-February.

The Wildcats defeated Lewis 75-66 at home the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Drury University is also playing host to the NCAA Div. II Men’s Midwest Regional, which features No. 6 Michigan Tech facing No. 3 Southern Indiana on Saturday. The second round of the women’s tournament is scheduled for Sunday instead of Saturday because of four first-round men’s games.