MARQUETTE - Traditionally when an NCAA Division II school hosts an NAIA institution in an exhibition, a rout in favor of the Division II breaks out.
That's not what Northern Michigan University women's basketball coach Troy Mattson was looking for, however.
He wanted his young Wildcats to be tested, and they were in a 58-53 exhibition victory over Madonna University of Livonia, Mich., at the Berry Events Center on Sunday.
Northern Michigan University sophomore point guard Alyssa Colla (3) drives past Madonna University senior guard Heather Pratt (4) during an exhibition game on Sunday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"This is way better for us than going and winning by 40 points and not understanding who we are and what we are doing," Mattson said. "We had to play and we had to play for 40 minutes. I'd rather have it that way than going into a 40-point blow out and not understanding where you need to get better at."
The Wildcats led comfortably at halftime, 25-14, thanks to a strong defensive effort, but the Crusaders stormed back to tie the game at 31-31 and again at 53-53 with 2:34 to play.
A bucket by freshman guard Anna Liewen put the Crusaders behind for good.
Sophomore point guard Alyssa Colla led NMU with 16 points and Liewen posted 14. Sophomore guard Lauren Gruber had 10 points.
"I thought Anna Liewen for a freshman had just an unbelievable game," Mattson said. "She is a force. She is a strong, strong girl and has great instincts for basketball and had a great performance."
Mattson's 2012-13 squad has no seniors and only two juniors in center Annie Rubendunst and forward Katie Becker.
Mattson made two key additions to his group of seven freshman and seven sophomores this offseason, bringing in sophomore transfer Maria Almquist out of Minnesota-Duluth and Hancock, as well as the U19 MVP of the Finnish Basketball Association in Nea Makela of Tampere, Finland.
"Maria has got to be one of our best players. She will be," Mattson said.
"Nea, I felt played really well in the first half, defensively especially, and rebounding-wise, she had a few.
"They are both going to be major contributors for us."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.