HOUGHTON - With the Michigan Tech women's basketball team trailing by seven points at intermission Saturday to Saginaw Valley, coach Kim Cameron dialed up a set designed to free freshman forward Kylie Moxley in the post for the first play of the second half.
As the ball reversed to the wing, freshman guard MacKenzie Perttu set a screen across the lane, allowing Moxley to seal her player on the block. With the pass coming in, Perttu's defender stayed where she was to double Moxley, who had already lit up Saginaw for nine points and nine rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
As she received the ball, Moxley showed no hesitation. It was one dribble to create space and then a no-look pass was zipped to the waiting hands of Perttu for an uncontested layup. The bucket started a run of eight straight scoring possessions for Tech - 18 points in five minutes - to quickly make up the initial deficit and take a lead the Huskies never gave back.
"That was a sweet pass," Perttu said. "(Moxley) was like, 'Man, I was just hoping you were there,' and I was. It was perfect."
What was remarkable was how unremarkable the exchange between the two freshmen seemed.
Head coach Kim Cameron moved Perttu into the starting lineup four games ago on the road at Ferris State and Moxley, roommates with Perttu, joined her last Thursday against Wayne State.
This weekend, the duo - who played AAU ball together for the Wisconsin Legends in high school - combined for 33.5 points per game in a pair of wins, with Perttu garnering the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division Player of the Week award after 20- and 18-point showings.
The last time two freshmen (true or redshirt) started at the same time for the Tech women came in the 2006-07 season when Katie Wysocky (eventual two-time GLIAC Player of the Year) and Danae Danen got the nod from then-head coach John Barnes. Wysocky and Danen went on to win 100 total games in a Husky uniform.
"It is pretty rare, especially for a true freshman," Cameron acknowledged.
Rare, but necessary.
Coming off home losses to Indianapolis and Ashland after the winter break, the Huskies offense looked stagnant, averaging a mediocre 1.02 points per possession with juniors Taylor Stippel and Paige Albi starting.
Moxley had already shown flashes of dominance, with 26 points in a win over Lake Erie and Perttu qualified as one of a few bright spots in the loss to Ashland with 15 points on eight shots.
With a crucial road trip coming up to GLIAC North powers Ferris State and Grand Valley, Cameron acted decisively.
"You go through your games and assess what is working for you and what is not, especially after a couple of losses," Cameron said. "Looking at the Ashland and Indy games, we were missing a lot of shots. So we made the change because we were looking for something to just spark us initially we thought offensively they could provide that."
"I never expected to be starting this year," Moxley added. "I just wanted to come in, compete for some minutes and see what happened.
"I called my parents right away. Definitely pretty excited."
So far, the move has rated as a downright success.
Tech sits tied atop the GLIAC North Division with Ferris - with the Bulldogs still to play in Houghton - and Moxley and Perttu rank No. 2 and No. 4 on the team in scoring respectively, and are No. 1 and No. 3 on the squad in shooting percentage among the top seven scorers.
Started together, the Husky offense has hummed its way to an efficient 1.12 points per possession.
Better than individual stats though, their creative presence has opened up the offense for the whole team.
Moxley acts as a focal point for the offense's inside-to-out balance and Perttu sets an aggressive edge with hard drives to the hoop that has rubbed off on the whole team.
"You wonder if it is the right time and you wonder if it is the right decision," Cameron said. "I think for what we are trying to accomplish, it was. Kylie inside just creates so much more for everyone else. I think for our offense right now, Kylie is the right person to use on the block. And then with Kenzie outside and Sam (Hoyt) and Emma (Veach), it is kind of like a pick your poison."
According to Cameron, the pair have forced themselves into an impact role thanks to the work they did early in the year.
Both arrived to Houghton in the summer to play pickup games with Hoyt and Co. and the connection established in AAU ball is apparent on the court. Throw in the fact that they are roommates who feed off each other emotionally, and the usual obstacles freshmen encounter have been significantly lessened.
"I feel like if I?wouldn't have known anybody up here that it would have been a much harder decision to give up part of my summer," Perttu said. "But knowing I had someone I knew to live with made it easier."
"They finish each other's sentences, they really are two peas in a pod. It's really pretty cool," Cameron said.
And while Cameron acknowledges the duo still has a way to go defensively, she would not have increased their role if she didn't think the two could handle it on both sides of the ball.
Moxley and Perttu each spoke of embracing the challenge on the less-glamorous end of the court.
"Oh yeah, teams are going to come at me big time," Moxley said. "I mean, that is what we do if we see a freshman in the lineup. So I just have to step up and really embrace the challenge. Just move my feet and keep working out there and use my physicality to my advantage.
"Kylie is going to have to take some hits," Cameron said. "She is going to have guard the strongest post players in the league who are seniors. That's a big responsibility. And to be honest, it's not really fair to put her in those positions but she is just going to have to go out there and learn how to do it."
Of course, now the film is out, the scouting report has tendencies in big, bold letters. How Moxley and Perttu adapt to increased attention- starting today at Northwood and Saturday at Lake Superior - will likely determine how successful Tech will be this season.
Moxley has already shown an aptitude for self-correcting game-to-game, pouring in 20 points against Saginaw despite giving up three inches to her primary defender. Perttu has exhibited mental toughness, recovering from yo-yoing playing time and hesitant decision-making early in the season.
"They are going to be put in some pressure situations and there are going to be some good times and going to be some bad times," Cameron said. "But they will always have each other to understand what they are going through, which is helpful."