HOUGHTON - With GLIAC North play beginning today, the Michigan Tech women's basketball team travels to Baig Rapids, Mich., with the season at a critical juncture.
In their three games since the winter break, the Huskies have lost twice - albeit, to the No. 1 and No. 5 teams in the country - and won ugly against a conference victory-less Lake Erie squad.
So naturally, in a test that will be as mental as it is physical, Tech will try and rediscover its mojo against North Division leaders Ferris State.
Michigan Tech’s Emma Veach drives to the hoop during Saturday’s home game against Ashland. The Huskies face North Division leader Ferris State tonight. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"We are hoping it is like Michigan State (men's basketball)," Tech coach Kim Cameron said. "They play the toughest teams in the country early, and when they lose, people think they are never going to win another game, but then they are always going deep in March."
On Saturday, it was reigning GLIAC Player of the Year and senior forward Kari Daugherty the Huskies defense had to focus on. Today, it is how the Tech defense handles senior Sarah DeShone, possibly the best guard in the conference - though Sam Hoyt's brow might wrinkle at that description - that should decide the outcome.
Last season, Ferris wrested North Division dominance from Tech thanks to a season sweep over the Huskies. DeShone led the way with 34 total points on 50 percent shooting.
"DeShone is a very flashy player and she does everything," Cameron said. "She scores, she creates, she gets rebounds, she gets steals - she is everywhere and she goes 1,000,000 miles an hour. You watch just one play in film and she has done 10 different things to set up one player on her team."
With all four other starters gone from last year's team, the Bulldogs have become even more dependent on DeShone.
The 5-foot-7 senior trails only Daugherty in the GLIAC with 21.1 points per game (47 percent shooting) and leads Ferris in assists.
With three starters graduated and one lost to injury, DeShone's scoring has jumped seven points per game to accommodate the lack of experience around her.
Right now, she is Ferris State.
"They had a couple more shooters last year who were used to having more of a scoring role," Cameron said. "Where this year they have a couple of younger kids. She is just in full control of all of them. She will literally tell them where to go so she can pass them the ball for a layup."
Fitting her top billing, Cameron will rely on a host of defenders to wear on DeShone. Hoyt, Paige Albi, Kelcey Traynoff and Emma Veach all may get their shot.
First and foremost, however, Hoyt will draw DeShone from the opening tip. Hoyt sat out Tuesday's practice for what Cameron called "a physical and mental break."
"You can't expect one player to shut (Deshone) down for the whole game because she goes at 110 miles an hour," Cameron said. "So we need a rotation to guard her because she exhausts people.
"It would take a lot for Sam to not be ready for Thursday," Cameron added.
Offensively, the Huskies have shot 40 percent or less in each of the last four games, after only sinking that low in one of the first eight contests. Hoyt and Taylor Stippel, the two leading scorers, are both shooting 39 percent for the season.
To try and bust the slump, the Tech must beat the Bulldogs' 1-3-1 zone with crisp ball movement and strong decision-making - two factors that have not been a given this season.
"If you are strong with the basketball, you can beat (the 1-3-1) with ball movement," Cameron said. "Any time you can get the ball inside-out against the zone, good things are going to happen. we need to be aggressive and not settle for the one-pass shot because you can get that anytime."
Tech will travel to Grand Valley State on Saturday to wrap up the two-game road trip. The Lakers are 9-3 overall this year, with a 5-3 mark in conference.
"These two games are going to be huge," Cameron said. "You can't help but feel a little of an emotional and physical letdown after losing these last two games. there is no question this team, one-through-five, is looking to perform better."