Remember back on Dec. 22, when Northwestern women’s basketball was 11-1 and looked primed to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years? Just a little over a month later, those Tournament aspirations appear to be on life support.
The Wildcats’ streak of futility was extended Sunday when the Iowa Hawkeyes (15-7, 5-5 B1G) pounded Northwestern (13-9, 2-8 B1G) 79-64 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It was NU’s fifth straight loss, and its fifth overall loss by double-digits.
“For about 35 minutes, it was a really good college basketball game,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “Both teams played hard, everybody competed, and we just didn’t do enough to defend Iowa when we needed to, in the fourth quarter. It got away from us.”
Once again, the Wildcats fell apart in the fourth quarter. They trailed by only four heading into the final frame before allowing 25 points and losing by 15. It was the third straight game that Northwestern allowed at least that many points in the fourth quarter.
“I think we need to have a focus all four quarters,” senior Maggie Lyon said. “At the end of games is when you really need to grind out possessions and stops, and I think we need to hone in on that a little more.”
“[We need to] go into the fourth quarter with an attitude that we’re going to stop you,” McKeown said. “We haven’t rebounded well in the fourth quarter. We have to make our own breaks.”
It was another poor defensive game overall for the Wildcats, which allowed an opponent to shoot 45 percent or better from the floor for the fifth time in the last six games. Iowa’s shooters connected on 51.8 percent of their shots, led by Chase Coley’s 80 percent shooting clip. Coley finished with a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds, and fellow forward Megan Gustafson contributed a double-double with 15 points and 13 boards, as well as three blocks.
“I thought their post play was the difference in the game,” McKeown said. “Their big kids really hurt us.”
Meanwhile, NU struggled to get the ball into the net, shooting only 35 percent from the floor, including only 16.7 percent (3-for-18) from beyond the arc. Lyon was the only NU player to make a three-pointer.
“We didn’t shoot very well today, which is really disappointing,” McKeown said. “They contained the lane, basically, shut it down, forced us to shoot the ball outside. We didn’t get some of the easy baskets that we’ve been getting in transition.”
Lyon finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Ashley Deary’s six steals raised her season total to 99, tying a program record for steals in a season that she set just last year. But it was Nia Coffey who led the way, as usual, collecting 20 points and 14 boards. She’s now scored in double figures in 37 straight games, and picked up her 11th double-double of the season.
“When we reverse the ball we’re a very good team,” Coffey said. “When we have good communication we do really well.”
It once seemed very likely that the Wildcats would be making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Now those dreams have been all but dashed. Northwestern has only one currently ranked opponent left in its final eight games. If the Wildcats can pull off the improbable and pick up wins in the other seven of those games, they would finish the season with a very respectable 20-10 record. But with only one really good win on the resume (over Ohio State at home on Jan. 14), it might not be enough.