It took almost 40 minutes, but in the end, Nia Coffey pulled through and gave Northwestern a much-needed road victory over Michigan with a game-winning layup.
Northwestern lagged behind for most of the night and entered halftime down 10. But a Coffey jumper with 15:15 to go kicked off a 15-3 run that put the game within reach.
Finally, down one with the clock draining, the 6-foot-1 sophomore rebounded, drove the length of the court and finished with a layup, capping off a 12-point comeback and giving Northwestern a 63-62 lead with 4.9 seconds to play. Michigan’s Sierra Thompson heaved up a desperation three, but it bounced short as time expired, and the Wildcats (19-6, 9-5) took a 63-62 road victory over the Wolverines (14-11, 6-8).
The win extends Northwestern’s Coffey-fueled streak to five games. After going 1-4 from Jan. 14 through Jan. 25, the Wildcats are undefeated behind five consecutive double-doubles from Coffey, the team's leading scorer and rebounder. Saturday’s performance was her most prolific yet: 25 points and 11 rebounds, including 14 points during Northwestern’s second-half surge.
Coach Joe McKeown could not have picked a better time for his star power forward to step up. Christen Inman, Northwestern’s third-leading scorer, was sidelined with an injury Saturday, ending a streak of 22 straight games of perfect health for the Wildcat starting lineup.
But Coffey didn't fill the void alone. Senior Karly Roser took Inman’s lineup spot and Saturday, her third straight start, was her smoothest. The senior sunk a three to stop Michigan's opening 9-0 run, and she finished with seven points and seven assists.
Sophomore Lauren Douglas also rose to the occasion. While the Wolverines held Maggie Lyon and Alex Cohen scoreless in the first half, Douglas’ eight points kept the Wildcats afloat. Thirty-four points in three contests since the Inman injury have pushed her season average to an even 10.0 per game.
Still, McKeown will be anxious to have Inman back on the court. The 17th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will be waiting for the Wildcats when they return home Wednesday. After that, Northwestern travels to Wisconsin, before returning to greet No. 18 Rutgers at Welsh-Ryan. A March 1 matchup against No. 2 Maryland, who stands undefeated in Big Ten play, looms as the final game of the year.
It will be a trying time for these upstart ‘Cats, one that will decide seeding for the Big Ten tournament, and ultimately their shot at a first NCAA tourney bid in 18 years.