They say all good things must come to an end. On Saturday, an amazing thing finally did.
Northwestern women’s basketball was the first 12-seed to ever make it into the semifinals of the Women’s Big Ten Tournament, but the magic the 'Cats had accrued finally ran out Saturday when they ran into the Maryland Terrapins, the tournament’s top seed. The regular season conference champions rolled over the upstart Wildcats 83-62, knocking the ‘Cats out of the Tournament.
Northwestern actually started Saturday’s contest fairly well, grabbing an 8-7 lead with 6:54 to play in the first quarter thanks to back-to-back three-pointers by Nia Coffey. But perhaps playing four games in four days was too tall a task, as the Terps took over from there, never again relinquishing the lead. Maryland went on a 12-0 run after Coffey’s basket to open up an 11 point lead, and ended the first quarter up 25-14.
Northwestern greatly improved its defense in the second quarter, allowing the high-octane Terps to score just 12 points. But with junior Christen Inman sitting on the bench with three fouls, Northwestern’s offense never got going either, and the Terrapins headed into halftime with a 37-30 lead.
Feeling the pressure from the ever-lurking Wildcats, the Terrapins turned it up a notch in the second half. After Inman hit a jumper with 7:23 left in the frame to cut the deficit to nine, Maryland never led by fewer than ten, finishing the third period up 59-46.
Allie Tuttle opened the scoring in the final frame, but then Maryland pulled away for good with another 12-0 run to push their lead to 23 with six minutes to play. From there, the deficit was just too great, and Maryland coasted down the stretch to an emphatic 83-62 win.
One of the best and most balanced teams in the country, five Maryland players finished in double-figure scoring. The Terps were led, as usual, by the dominant post presence of Brionna Jones, who recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, as well as the consistent perimeter play of Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who tallied 15 points, seven boards and five assists. Maryland shot 52.5 percent from the floor, better than its season average of 50 percent.
With Maggie Lyon sidelined, the Wildcats have had to look to the rest of the team to fill the void left by their second-leading scorer. Someone else stepped up in each of the Wildcats’ three Tournament wins, but against Maryland, it was all Nia Coffey. The consensus Big Ten first-team player poured in a season-high 31 points, accounting for exactly half of Northwestern’s offensive output. She shot exactly 50 percent from the floor, as well as 50 percent from beyond the arc, both much better than her season averages. She tallied 16 points in the first half, and was the biggest reason that Northwestern trailed by just seven points at halftime.
Northwestern shot just 34 percent from the floor, far worse than its season average of 41 percent. But if Coffey’s 50 percent clip is removed, Northwestern’s percentage on the game drops to a paltry 25 percent. Further, only one other Northwestern player scored more than seven points: Allie Tuttle, who set a new career-high herself with 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting. Meanwhile, Inman tallied six points while batting both foul trouble and Walker-Kimbrough, while Ashley Deary turned in a miserable 0-for-14 shooting performance, most likely due to the fatigue of playing games in four consecutive days.
Before Wednesday, some people thought Northwestern might not win a single Tournament game. The chances of the Wildcats participating in meaningful postseason play were slim at best. But instead, Northwestern won three Tournament games, chalking up two legitimate upsets along the way, and now its chances of making the WNIT are very high, though not guaranteed as of yet. Before running into the machine that is Maryland, the Wildcats made some Big Ten Tournament history, proving everyone, this writer included, wrong along the way.