HOUGHTON - In the 73-65 home loss to Findlay one month ago, the Michigan Tech women's basketball team learned a hard-earned lesson on the dos-and-don'ts of handling a 40-minutes-of-pressure opponent.
While 19 turnovers certainly didn't help, it was the overall effect on Tech's tempo and attitude that proved most disruptive from the Oiler's press. So much energy was expended simply bringing the ball up the court, that actually scoring once the ball crossed halfcourt appeared to take a back seat.
The Huskies will have a chance to redeem themselves today against Lake Erie, an opponent that takes pressure to an even higher level.
Michigan Tech’s Jillian Ritchie vies for a loose ball with a Hillsdale player Dec. 8. Ritchie will draw a pair of tough defensive assignments as the Huskies take on Lake Erie and Ashland this weekend. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"We just need to be more aggressive offensively," senior point guard Sam Hoyt said. "When we start just passing it around and passing it around, that is when we have a turnover. We just have to be aggressive, look to score more. We can't just break it and then stop, because we should be able to get easy layups out of it.
"It has to be quick but it can't be rushed. You have to find the fine line there."
Where Findlay pressed up the court and extended its defense inside the halfcourt, the Oilers at least stayed in recognizable alignments once Tech had broken the press.
Not so much with Lake Erie.
Picking up from end-line to end-line, the Storm will trap anywhere possible and feast once the dribble has been picked up. They have held opponents to 55 points per game (on 36 percent shooting) and forced 22.5 turnovers per contest. Of Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents, only North Division leader Ferris State managed to crack 60 points against the Storm.
"They are even more aggressive than Findlay," Cameron said. "You won't ever be comfortable, because they are constantly pressuring. You can't even set screens because there is no one to set a screen on. They are always trapping and moving. you better know what you are going to do the second you pick up the basketball because if you don't, you are done."
Of course, as effective as Lake Erie's defense has been, there offense has been that putrid. The Storm sit with an 0-5 mark in conference play thanks to their sincere trouble of putting the ball in the basket, managing 55 points per contest on 34 percent shooting.
They basically have one option - though an extremely good one - in Division I transfer Ashar Harris.
Formerly of Morehead State, the 5-foot-11 forward scored over 1,000 points and grabbed 1,200 rebounds in three years at the D-I level. This season, she leads Lake Erie with 16 points and 14 rebounds per game. Cameron will give sophomore Jillian Ritchie the nod to match up with Harris.
"She is super athletic and very smart at finding the basketball," Cameron said. "She can finish left or right and spins away from help - she is a very, very talented player.
"We will be giving Jillian plenty of help."
Of course, Harris will be just a warm-up for what awaits the Huskies Saturday.
After coming within a Hoyt rimmed-out jumper of beating Ashland in Ohio last season, Tech welcomes the undefeated No. 1 team in the country to the Student Development Complex this time around.
There any number of ways to statistically illuminate Ashland's dominance, but two numbers will suffice for now. The Eagles have outscored opponents by 24 points per game in a 13-0 start, and reigning GLIAC Player of the Year Kari Daugherty (another Division I transfer), has only improved on last season with 23.6 points per game and 15 rebounds per contest, both easily tops in the conference.
"Jillian is going to have a tough couple days," Cameron said with a laugh Wednesday. "I should tell her to go to bed early tonight."
And similar to last season, while Daugherty serves as the fulcrum, every other starter averages at least eight points per game. Help off on Daugherty - 4.2 assists per contest - and the forward is very adept at finding the right teammate.
"It just comes down to good, solid team defense because you can't help off anybody," Cameron said. "And that's kind of cool. They are that good and it's a great challenge. It will be neat to see them.
"We really have to take advantage of our home court. (Ashland) doesn't get rattled very easily and they shouldn't because they have a lot to be confident about. At the same time, we have a lot to defend here and the kids want to prove their worth against a No. 1."