First place on the line for FSU hoops

BIG RAPIDS — There’s already plenty at stake for the Ferris State men’s and women’s basketball team with first place in the GLIAC North on the line heading into Saturday. The fact that they’ll be facing Grand Valley State certainly won’t temper any of the hype.

Both the men’s and women’s teams head into Saturday’s showdown against the Lakers in first place in the GLIAC North. The women tip-off at 1 p.m., followed by the men at 3 p.m.

The women’s team has opened up a two-game lead in the division after knocking off Michigan Tech in a huge road win on Friday, snapping the Huskies’ 37-game home court win streak. The men dropped the road contest against MTU, but rebounded with a come-from-behind win against Northern Michigan to move back into a tie for first in the division with Michigan Tech.

GOING STRONG: Christina Branch and Ferris State will take on GVSU at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Wink Arena. (Pioneer file photo)

Sitting atop the GLIAC North only adds to the importance of Saturday’ match-up against the Lakers, FSU women’s coach Tracey Dorow said.

“There’s no doubt they’re going to be pumped up and there’s going to be a ton of energy on Saturday,” Dorow said, referring to the Bulldogs, who have won six straight. “I don’t know if it’s any different (coming into the game leading the GLIAC North). It’s different for us to not be the underdog.”

Regardless of where both teams are in the GLIAC standings — the Bulldogs are 9-1 while the Lakers are 6-5 in league play — Dorow is well aware of the challenge the talented GVSU roster presents.

GVSU comes into the contest as one of the best rebounding teams in the league, making it critical for the Bulldogs to have success on the glass. The Lakers are led by Briauna Taylor, who averages 13.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“We know they’re a good rebounding team and they’re very physical,” she said. “It’s certainly not a team you take for granted, because they always play their best against us. They’re not shooting the ball as well on the first shot as they were last year, so we have to do a good job against them rebounding and limit them to one shot.”

The Bulldogs have been getting production from nearly the entire roster during their recent win streak, with senior guard Tricia Principe leading the way last weekend. Principe was the GLIAC North Player of the Week, averaging 17 points, 3.5 rebounds 3.0 assists in the two games as FSU increased its GLIAC North Division lead over second-place Michigan Tech.

“She had a great week,” Dorow said of the senior shooting guard. “She had a huge game against (Michigan) Tech and she defended really well against Northern Michigan. I tell our girls, though, that it’s a team award when one of our players win it, because if you don’t win both games during the week you don’t win (the award).”

The Bulldogs are riding a six game win streak coming into Saturday’s contest and are beginning to find the consistency they lacked early in the season.

That consistency has come from the young team getting more practice and repetitions, Dorow said.

“They’ve been getting in the gym and shooting a better percentage (in games),” she said. “They’re understanding what we run offensively a little better. Defensively, they had lapses, but also very good stretches. Early in the season, we weren’t on the same page defensively. As we’ve gotten more reps we’ve developed more consistency on defense.”

Men’s basketball coach Bill Sall sees this edition of the Bulldogs/Lakers rivalry as a match-up of two very similar teams coming in. Both rely on veteran guard play, but feature significant contributions from freshmen or more inexperienced players.

The Lakers (10-7, 6-5) are experienced at the guard position, with James Thomas, who leads the team with 14.4 points per game and Breland Hogan, who is second on the team at 11 points per contest.

Sall said that combination, along with senior post player Nick Waddell give GVSU a solid nucleus of veterans to go with some fresh faces in the lineup draw a number of parallels with the Bulldogs.

“They have four seniors that have been in the program and are mainstay guys,” Sall said. “They’re a lot like us in that they have a lot of fresh faces. They also are similar in that they do what we do well, which is defend.”

The Lakers lead the GLIAC in scoring defense at 60.6 point per game. The Bulldogs rank fourth in the conference, giving up 64.1 points per contest.

With two teams that have had bouts with inconsistency in scoring, it will make the Bulldogs’ performance on the defensive end all the more important on Saturday, Sall said.

“When you look at us and our recipe for success, if we do a nice job making sure there are no second chances for them, that’s going to be a key,” he said. “Do we have the ability to do a good job of containing Hogan, Waddell and Thomas? If we can make the have a tougher night, I like our chances.”

With both teams sporting similar rosters and strengths, the difference may come down to which team understands the rivalry more.

Sall said he is confident seniors like Jerrell Sanders and Dontae Molden will make the Bulldogs’ freshman class aware of the importance of beating the Lakers.

There isn’t much that needs to be said about what’s on the line when the two teams meet, Sall said.

“I’m quite sure the upperclassmen will make them aware of what (the rivalry) is about,” he said. “There’s not a lot I need to say to get them ready. You should know what this game is about.”

 

 

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