In a close game played for Big Ten bragging rights, a team needs its stars to step up into the spotlight. You just don’t usually expect those stars to come from the freshman and sophomore classes.
And yet, that’s just how Northwestern was able to overcome a slow start and beat Wisconsin at home, 74-58.
“We’ve played a lot of close games early in the season and I think those games really helped prepare us for these games, although the Big Ten is a lot different,” freshman guard Christen Inman said. “But, that experience from the beginning of the season really helped us now.”
Sophomore forward Lauren Douglas led all NU scorers with 20 points, while freshmen Nia Coffey and Inman each had 19 points.
“I think it just says that we share the ball really well,” Inman said. “I think we’re a very unselfish team.”
Despite scorers in the double-digits, Northwestern started out shooting very poorly, an unimpressive 36.4 percent from the field.
The ‘Cats were also lacking on the offensive boards in the first half, only grabbing three to Wisconsin’s five, allowing the score to stay close. In the first half alone, there were four lead changes and two times the score was tied.
A big reason was Wisconsin’s Michala Johnson, who racked up 32 points, many of which were were lay-ups underneath the basket. Douglas and Coffey were charged with the task of trying to shut her down.
“Going in, we knew she was a good post player, but she was really hot tonight,” Douglas said. “Once we shut her down, the team wasn’t scoring as much as they could so that helped us a lot once we stopped her.”
At half time, Coach Joe McKweon challenged the team to step up its defense and stop Johnson in the paint. Cutting her point total down from 19 in the first half to 13 in the second certainly did the trick.
Offensively, the Wildcats burst onto the court in the second half seeming like a new team. They improved their shooting percentage to 50.8 from the field and a whopping 80 percent from behind the three.
Wisconsin still battled back, at one point tying the score at 46 with 11:10 left in the game. That was the moment when the momentum of the game could have shifted to either team. So the freshman forward Coffey saw an opportunity.
Coffey would go on a 9-0 run all by herself, putting the Wildcats up 55-46. She scored 15 points in the second half and led the team with eight rebounds and five steals.
“When you can make a 9-0 run yourself, [it] takes my blood pressure down a little bit,” McKweon said. “She’ll do some things you don’t see many players do, athletically. Where I think she’s doing a great job right now is playing within herself.”
And the ‘Cats went on to finish the game in an expert fashion, keeping possession of the ball and forcing Wisconsin turnovers. They ultimately won the turnover battle with only 10 turnovers to Wisconsin’s 23.
Coffey very poetically picked off a Wisconsin pass to seal Northwestern’s victory.
“I just loved the way we finished the game,” McKweon said. “I just thought we showed a lot of poise. When they made a run, we came right back at them. That was the difference in the game.”
Northwestern’s Big Ten schedule isn’t letting up, as it will face Purdue next Thursday.