Tech women tangle with No. 2 Ashland

HOUGHTON – For the Michigan Tech women’s basketball team, the first step to beating Ashland Saturday at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals is accepting that it is indeed possible to beat Ashland.

And while that may sound like oddly specific wisdom found on the inside of a fortune cookie, to upset the Eagles (26-1) – defending GLIAC champs, defending national runners-up, No. 1 team in the Midwest region and No. 2 in the country – clearing that mental hurdle must be done before facing the significant physical challenges Ashland imposes.

With seniors Sam Hoyt and Emma Veach coming just one basket away from doing so last year, however, and the Huskies in the midst of a five-game winning streak (including 11 victories in the last 13 contests), Cameron believes her team’s confidence is at an all-time high this year.

Now they just have to figure out a way to shut down reigning GLIAC Player of the Year Kari Daugherty (21.6 points per game, 14 rebounds per game and out injured in the one loss) and running mate Daiva Gerbec (14.5 PPG, 58.4 percent shooting) and they will be good to go.

“We truly believe that they are beatable,” Cameron said. “We feel like there are a lot of things that are in our favor, even now. I think the team is confident and we are playing the best that we have played all year. We have had to battle through some injuries and the girls have really done a good job in adjusting. Leaders are leading and younger kids are stepping up. They are up for the Ashland challenge. that being said, we know how good Ashland is.”

In the 76-66 loss at the start of January to the Eagles, Tech found itself trailing by 16 points just over 17 minutes into the game and was forced to (unsuccessfully) play catch up from there.

Wednesday, in the 71-56 dismantling of Grand Valley State in the quarterfinals, the Huskies jumped out to a 21-6 lead as Tech executed from the get-go.

A similar point of emphasis is being pushed heavily for Saturday’s game.

“It is the only way you give yourself a chance is to try and set the tone right away,” Cameron said. “It is going to be a battle, because Ashland is good because they are mentally tough and they are consistent. but that being said we are also very battle tested.”

Strategically, any successful gameplan starts first and foremost with the post duo of Daugherty and Gerbec.

Both stand over 6 feet tall and both score extremely efficiently from almost any place on the court. Over-help on one, and the other will beat you as the Huskies found to their detriment in January when Gerbec exploded for 27 points with Daugherty (10 points) happy to play the role of distributor.

Kylie Moxley saw just 14 minutes of action in the regular season loss, but will be called upon to stand toe-to-toe with Gerbec Saturday.

Where Moxley has proven to be far beyond her years offensively, she still often defends like a true freshman.

“Kylie wins the physical battle with those two, but she is going to have to play smart,” Cameron said. “It is about being tough and strong, but smart too.”

At 77 points per game, the Eagles score seven points per game more than the next closest team in the GLIAC – fast-paced Findlay sits at No. 2 – and do so on a ridiculously efficient 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent shooting from behind the arc.

To stay with them, Tech will have to display its own wealth of scoring options.

Moxley, Veach and Ritchie all have had flashes in big games this season, but it will take all three Saturday plus Sam Hoyt’s typical brilliance for the Huskies to have a shot at handing Ashland its third loss in the last 61 games.

“They will completely take Sam out as much as they can,” Cameron said. “And while that is not always easy Ashland seems to have done that the best of anyone we have played. The difference-makers are going to be Jillian Ritchie and Emma Veach looking to shoot and then our post play is going to be extremely important.”

With Tech sitting comfortably at No. 4 in the Midwest regional rankings – which does not include the victory over Grand Valley – Husky fans can take solace knowing that this contest does not make or break Tech’s season. Barring some unforeseen turn of events, the Huskies should qualify for their 17th NCAA Tournament appearance.

Of course, Cameron won’t venture down that path just yet.

“The final rankings have not come out yet, we haven’t heard the Sunday Selection show,” Cameron said. “So it is hard for us to go there.”