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#5 ONU vs. Lakeland: Five things to know

Northern's Britt Lauck (left) and Lakeland's Bailey Grayvold (right) will go head-to-head on Friday night; both lead their respective teams in scoring. (Northern Review illustration/ Grant Pepper)

The Northern women’s basketball team will face Lakeland (Wis.) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at King Horn Sports Center. The Polar Bears (27-0) will be making their fourth national tournament appearance in five years, while the Muskies (20-7) will be making their first appearance since 2010.

Before you come to King Horn on Friday night, we want you prepared; here are five things to know about Northern’s first-round matchup.

 

1. Lakeland is coming in hot -- In the NACC Tournament championship game last weekend, Lakeland led most of the game before falling behind Concordia late in the second half. The Muskies finished the game on a 10-2 run, however, which coach Aaron Nester says symbolizes how this season has went for his team.

“If you look at our team and our season, we got off to a slow start -- and I think a lot of that is contributed to the competition we faced early on -- but we’re a pretty young team overall, we only returned six or seven players and the rest are freshmen,” Nester said earlier this week. “So, I think it took some time to gel. And when that occurred, we’re 16-2 in our last 18 games and have been playing really good basketball, and our two losses have been by a combined eight points.”

After falling to 2-4 in late November, the Muskies managed to win 20 games this season and will be riding a seven-game win streak into Friday’s matchup with ONU.

 

2. Northern is coming in hotter -- The Polar Bears enter March with a 27-0 record, scoring nearly 74 points per game this year and giving up just 55. Only seven teams have come within 10 points of beating Ohio Northern this season, although Wilmington took them to overtime back in late January.

ONU is one of four teams nationally who are still undefeated. They have not lost since March 5, 2016, and have not lost at home in over a year. With their recent success, starting shooting guard Courtney Cramer (left) believes that there has been a ‘target’ on their backs; however, she also says that the team is able to use it as motivation.

“We’re going to get every team’s best game, and like coach Durand said, everyone thinks of playing us as their ‘Super Bowl,’” Cramer said this week on WONB’s The Pep Talk. “We have to step it up every game, just like everyone else is going to do against us.”

 

3. Lauck vs. Grayvold… get your popcorn ready -- Northern senior point guard Britt Lauck, who was recently named OAC Player of the Year, will square off against another prolific scorer in Lakeland’s Bailey Grayvold on Friday night.

Lauck averages a team-high 15 points per game for the Polar Bears, while also leading the team and OAC in assists this season. She is a versatile scoring guard who has a deadly pull-up jumper (see: Wilmington overtime game) and is not afraid to shoot the three.

Meanwhile, Grayvold was recently named First-Team All-NACC for the third year in a row, and she leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game. The senior is second on the team in assists, and drew praise from Nester for her versatility and hustle.

“She’s a bulldog. I think that when you see her play, you’re going to see someone who plays hard all the time,” Nester said. “She can shoot it from the perimeter, she can attack the basket; she’s kind of one of those invaluable players. She takes charges, she mixes it up defensively, she dives on the floor for loose balls… she’s really fun to watch, just as a pure basketball fan.”

These two must-watch guards will go head-to-head on Friday night.

 

4. Bullimore will need to keep playing big -- With ONU’s backup center Emily Mescher sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury, starting center Amy Bullimore (below) will have to carry the load down low for Northern once again this weekend.

Bullimore, who averages 13 points and eight rebounds per game and was recently named First-Team All-OAC, will be the only active player on Northern’s roster over six feet tall on Friday night. ONU head coach Michele Durand has played backup forward Cheyenne Raker at both the four and five positions to compensate for Northern’s lack of frontcourt depth.

“It’s a huge challenge for us at the inside positions,” Durand said. “Cheyenne really is a four, and Amy is our only five now, so we really have to hope that Amy doesn’t get into foul trouble and Cheyenne is going to have to do a great job when she’s in there.”

The good news for Ohio Northern: They won the OAC Tournament title on Saturday with Bullimore only playing 21 minutes, as she was in foul trouble. The bad news: Nester and Lakeland play a 10-woman rotation, including three centers who are listed at six-feet or taller. In short, Bullimore will need to play big -- both literally and figuratively -- on Friday night.

 

5. Northern not new to national scene -- Friday will mark ONU’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the past five years. It will be their ninth appearance in school history, and the fourth under Durand. For Northern’s senior class, this is their third time in the national tournament.

Meanwhile, Lakeland -- as well as the other two teams coming to King Horn this weekend -- will not have nearly as much recent experience in the Big Dance.

This will be Lakeland’s first time dancing since 2010, when they lost to DePauw in the first round, 79-46. It will be Illinois Wesleyan’s first time back since winning the National Championship in 2012, and will also be Trine’s first appearance in school history.

Least to say, Northern should have ‘experience’ on their side this weekend.