HOUGHTON - For a minute, upon receiving the news that their team ranked No. 6 in the Midwest Regional Rankings for the NCAA Tournament, Michigan Tech women's basketball coach Kim Cameron and her players rejoiced.
Then it was back to business as usual.
Because with three home contests remaining in the regular season against below-.500 teams, that is exactly what the Huskies need to take care of.
Michigan Tech’s Dani Blake drives toward the basket during the Huskies’ Feb. 9 game against Grand Valley State. Tech hosts Northwood at the SDC?Gym tonight. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Win the games they are supposed to, and Tech (16-7, 14-5 GLIAC) will be back in the NCAA Tournament - which they qualified for six of seven times from 2005-11 - after just falling short last season. At season's end, the top eight teams in the regional will qualify.
"I'm really happy," Cameron said. "We have put ourselves in a position to achieve a major goal and now we have to hold it. We have to take care of the regular season first though.
"But to know if it all ended today, you would be in really makes you focus on what you need to get done. It certainly does provide a sense of urgency and excitement and something to shoot for."
In the short term, finding consistent production offensively outside the two senior guards Sam Hoyt and Emma Veach will be the goal.
With shooting guard MacKenzie Perttu still sidelined with a knee injury and true freshman Kylie Moxley struggling to adapt to increased scouting attention, the Huskies have swung volatilely from balanced and highly-efficient to overly Hoyt-dependent and tentative.
In the loss to Wayne State last Thursday, Tech managed just 53 points despite getting 27 from Hoyt (on 9-of-16 shooting). In a 72-46 win at Saginaw Valley Saturday, it all clicked back in to place for the Huskies as they reached the 70-point mark for the first time since Perttu exited the lineup. Tech shot 30 percent Thursday and 48 percent Saturday.
"It is a lot of individual players fulfilling their roles and expectations," Cameron said. "We need Emily Harrison to keep her hands up, we need Kelcey Traynoff to hit threes off the bench, we need Jillian Ritchie to start strong. Every player has a role and if they fulfill role we are tough to beat."
Meanwhile, if Tech can find enough scoring from its young lineup the defense has quietly morphed into the force Black and Gold fans are used to seeing after a Jekyll and Hyde start to the season.
The Huskies now rank fourth in points allowed (61.1 per game) and field goal percentage (37.4 percent) in the GLIAC and have gone nine straight games without allowing an opponent to reach 70 points.
"I feel very confident in our defense right now," Cameron said. "The offense is still working out, but from the starters to players off the bench, everyone is doing their job defensively."
The insertion of 6-foot freshman Danielle Blake into the lineup to pair with sophomore Jillian Ritchie coincides nicely Tech's run of stinginess.
Between Blake and Ritchie, Tech can handle most perimeter and post threats, with the pair often switching who they are guarding to give teams an uncomfortable look. Tech held both Northwood and Lake Superior under 60 points in January victories.
"Dani's length and ability to get a hand on the basketball causes a lot of problems, especially on perimeter players," Cameron said. "She is so athletic and just provides a huge spark for us as a starter. Then with Ritchie's strength and toughness, it can be a lot to handle for teams."