The Northwestern women’s basketball team dropped to an 8-9 record Thursday night with a 67-53 loss to No. 25 Michigan (15-2, 4-0). With an upcoming schedule that includes 12 more arduous Big Ten games, the Wildcats’ 0-4 Big Ten start is a huge obstacle they will have to overcome if they want to have a shot at postseason play.
Senior forward Kendall Hackney led Northwestern scorers with 18 points and sophomore guard Karly Roser was right behind her with 12 points. Roser stepped up to fill the gap left by the abnormally poor play from Maggie Lyon, who only scored eight.
Roser’s inside moves in the paint and ball handling both up the court and on offense helped the Wildcats tremendously, especially at the end of the game when they attempted their comeback, down by 10 points. Coach Joe McKeown said he was “proud” of Roser’s play.
“I thought she played a great floor game for us,” he said.
If Roser can continue this play through the stretch of games on the Wildcats’ schedule, she will pose a real threat to teams with weak inside defenses and supplement points from the “bigs,” like Hackney, senior forwards Dannielle Diamant and Kate Popovec, and sophomore forward Alex Cohen.
Cohen had a solid game off the bench, scoring two points and grabbing seven rebounds.
But the play of their leading scorers wasn’t enough to overcome the Wildcats’ mistakes. Michigan senior guard Kate Thompson destroyed Northwestern’s defense, leading with 23 points, and 21 of those points were from three-point range, a fact Hackney lamented. She and Cohen said the team thought it was prepared for perimeter play, as they had practiced all week for Thompson’s punishing shots.
“We let their best player make open threes and that’s unacceptable,” Hackney said. “We knew she was their best shooter and we left her open and she made us pay.”
To start the game, Michigan could essentially do whatever it wanted on both ends of the floor. Just after the eight-minute mark, Michigan had scored 20 points to Northwestern’s 12. The Wolverines’ zone defense blocked the passing lanes and prevented Northwestern from driving to the basket.
After a timeout with 7:51 left in the first half, the ‘Cats held Michigan to just nine points. Their defense transitioned much faster than it did in the first eight minutes of the half, preventing Michigan from using its offensive speed. At the end of the half, Michigan was ahead 29-23, and the game seemed within the reach of the ‘Cats.
As Northwestern took the court to start the second half, however, any strength the defense had built was gone, allowing Michigan to go on an 8-0 run in the first 3:30. Thompson scored four of her seven three-pointers of the game, putting Michigan up 49-28 with 13:31 left to play.
Despite seven steals and Michigan’s 13 turnovers, Northwestern could not capitalize on Michigan’s mistakes in the second half. They only shot 38 percent from the field and went 3-of-13 in threes. Michigan continued its zone defense, which drew Northwestern charge fouls while driving in the paint. Hackney and Cohen both pointed to “a lack of focus” in the second half against Michigan’s fast-paced, well-oiled offense.
“We fought hard to come back in the end, but we ran out of time,” McKeown said.
McKeown also pointed to Northwestern’s lack of experience as a disadvantage against a Michigan team coming off a postseason showing.
This could mean a long month and a half for the team, as it faces opponents like Illinois, Purdue and Indiana in the next few weeks. But McKeown is optimistic about his team’s prospects.
“In the Big Ten, it’s been a league where everybody can beat everybody,” he said. “It’s one of those leagues where you can’t get too caught up in who you’re playing. You really have to focus on yourselves.”