MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University women's basketball coach Troy Mattson used several descriptive terms for his team's performance against Findlay on Saturday, but "incredible" seemed to come up the most often.
The Wildcats took a 59-49 victory at the Berry Events Center to hand the Oilers their first loss this season.
By improving to 3-1 in the GLIAC, Northern (6-2 overall) and Findlay (5-1) are part of a six-team logjam tied for the second-best record in the conference. For the Wildcats, it also means they are part of a five-way tie for the lead in the North Division with Michigan Tech, Grand Valley State, Ferris State and Northwood.
Northern Michigan University freshman Anna Liewen goes up for a shot in the paint against Findlay senior Tai Dotson during the first half on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"It was an overall incredible defensive effort," Mattson said. "To hold a team that usually scores in the 80s to 49 points, you have to be very, very happy."
Findlay had reached the 90-point plateau three times in its first six games, furthering Mattson's satisfaction.
"I thought our defense really came into its own today," he said. "We needed to get more physical and tough with our defense and the girls did that. Everybody that was out there really was tough-minded on defense the whole game and that really helped us."
The Wildcats had 15 steals to the Oilers' seven, with NMU's Lauren Gruber and Alyssa Colla each getting four.
"I think that defensively, we made a big difference in one day," he said. "We concentrated on how we were going to stop them (Friday) and (Saturday) morning at practice, and the girls paid attention and made it tough for them to score all night long."
But there is always something to improve upon. In the Wildcats' last two games, that something is the number of turnovers, as they had 29 on Saturday compared to 23 for Findlay.
"A big (weakness) for us are turnovers," said sophomore Abbey DeBruin, who scored 13 points. "We're having a little trouble with that - we might have a lot of (running to do) when we get back to practice next week."
But the turnovers didn't really undermine the Wildcats' strategy, which was to slow down the pace. That allowed Northern to neutralize Findlay's strongest asset, its high-pressure defense.
"We just knew we had to slow down, we knew that if we kept up with their pace we'd turn it over a lot," said Colla, a sophomore who celebrated her 20th birthday on Saturday. "We still had a lot of turnovers, but we got the win by just working it up and down the court."
Mattson agreed that controlling the pace was crucial.
"We didn't want to get into a running match to try and outscore them, because we can't score 80 points," he said. "We have a tough time scoring a lot of points."
This year's results bear that out, as NMU has broken the 60-point barrier just three times, scoring between 56 and 59 points in the other seven games, which includes two exhibitions.
"We just needed to keep the pace down low and control the tempo of the game, and I thought we did an incredible job with that," Mattson said.
With four 3-pointers and 16 points, sophomore guard Lauren Gruber led the Wildcats' offense, firing up some critical long shots in the second half to boost their momentum.
"The two guards, Alyssa and Lauren, they just made big shots all night long," Mattson said. "Courtney Lemon had a great second half defensively, and then this is just an incredible group of young ladies. They deserve this."
The win over an undefeated opponent could be a positive force for weeks to come.
"It gives us a big boost of energy," Mattson said. "We're tied at the top in the North (Division of the GLIAC), with however many teams, but that doesn't matter - we're still there.
"We're going to keep ourselves in position and get ourselves ready for another tough road trip to Ohio (next weekend). Hopefully we can do what we're supposed to do."
NMU plays at Ohio Dominican on Saturday and at Tiffin on Dec. 18.
Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org