Bulldogs bite Huskies

HOUGHTON – Too many turnovers. Too many offensive rebounds allowed. An 18-point first half-deficit.

A second straight loss.

It was a night full of errors – the kind of mistakes reflected in focus and intensity – that ultimately led to a 84-80 loss for the Michigan Tech women’s basketball team as they hosted Minnesota-Duluth Saturday afternoon for the season’s home opener.

Huskies coach Kim Cameron wasn’t bashful when asked to diagnose the issue.

“We start one junior and four sophomores,” Cameron said. “And our seventh person off the bench is a freshman. No, it does not surprise me. They were clearly very nervous, it’s their first home game. It is the their third time playing together, so am I shocked? No. I expected them to be a little bit nervous and we are going to work through some of these bumps and we are going to be alright.

“We knew that they were going to pressure and we had to take care of the basketball and we knew that we needed to win the rebounding war. We did neither of those things.”

Knowing full well the Bulldogs were going to come out in pressure defense, Tech turned the ball over on four of the first five possessions of the game.

Duluth jumped quickly on the mistakes, building a 10-1 lead in the first three minutes after tip-off to prompt an early timeout from Cameron.

It went like that for much of the first half, with bursts of inspired play sandwiched between stretches of turnovers and defensive lapses.

Duluth hit 18-of-31 shot attempts in the first half, while the Huskies turned it over 14 times – including eight steals that led to those dangerous transition opportunities.

“For us to not come out and not play our best in the first half really killed us,” Tech junior Jillian Ritchie, who led the team with 18 points, said. “That is not usually how we are at home. This is our court, our floor and we need to protect it. We just didn’t do that in the first half.”

The second half was better.

But an 18-point deficit is a lot to make up, and even though Tech twice put together runs to make it a game again, the Bulldogs did just enough to hold off the hosts and string out the victory.

After struggling to get the ball inside to Kylie Moxley in the first half (the sophomore finished with eight points on 4-of-12 shooting), the Huskies took a different route to the rim after intermission and attacked on the bounce.

Combined with some stifling defense, the penetration of Mackenzie Perttu (12 points), Ritchie and Danielle Blake helped cut the lead to 61-60 with 6:38 remaining in the contest after Perttu made her last shot of the game.

Duluth would rattle off seven straight points from there, however, with forward Hannah Rutten grabbing a pair of offensive rebounds leading directly to fouls and putbacks.

Rutten grabbed six offensive boards on the day (16 rebounds total) and led all scorers with 24 points on a crisp 8-of-15 shooting performance inside.

“We couldn’t find her on the boards and push her out. That was a huge chunk of points we could have kept them from getting if we could have just boxed her out,” Ritchie said.

“You just have to push back,” Cameron said simply of the rebounding woes.

Tech made it a game again with an improvised full court press to cut the lead to seven with just under two minutes remaining, but Duluth hit enough free throws to see the game out.

The loss drops Cameron’s record at home to 43-5 as a head coach. It was the first time Tech lost a home opener since 2007.

“This is not a trend,” Cameron said of the back-to-back losses. “We are building this team together. We are going to be fine. We are aggressive at times and we are very good at times. As soon as we put it all together, we will be fine.”