Coming off of two straight wins, Northwestern women's basketball (8-14, 1-10 B1G) arrived in University Park looking to maintain its positive momentum. They met their opposite in Penn State (13-10, 4-8 B1G), a team looking to snap its two game losing skid. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions outmatched the Wildcats, defending their home court 74-64.
Third year forward Paige Mott and first year guard Carolina Lau each shot the ball consistently and led the Wildcat offense with 12 points a piece. Mott excelled in the paint, going 6-8 on the night, while Lau shot 2-5 from three, while also scoring on multiple acrobatic floaters.
The Wildcat defense held Penn State to just 3-15 from outside, a mere 20%, but dominance in the paint and in transition led to the Nittany Lion victory. Third year forward Ali Brigham led this attack, scoring 19 points and going 9-10 from the field.
After winning the opening tip, Brigham wasted no time in scoring and made a layup with 9:48 on the clock to put the Nittany Lions on the board. Maintaining this energy, Penn State evoked a full court press, though Northwestern quickly broke it which set up a Page Mott finish on the other end.
Second year forward Caileigh Walsh hit a long jumper on NU’s next possession, but Brigham responded promptly and scored six straight, forcing a Northwestern timeout. The ’Cats proceeded to fight back, tying up the game at 10 a piece, although NU wouldn’t maintain this momentum for long. An administrative technical foul after a fourth year guard Taniyah Thompson three-point play brought PSU up five points, 15-10, with 4:15 left in the quarter.
But right then is when Northwestern’s guards stepped up. Three pointers from Lau and graduate student guard Sydney Wood paired with a jumper from second year guard Jillian Brown kept the Wildcats in fighting distance. The first buzzer sounded with the Nittany Lions up 23-18, although neither team seemed to truly have the edge.
The second quarter had a much slower start, as neither team seemed to maintain its previous offensive rhythm. Just past the nine minute mark Penn State’s second year guard Leilani Kapinus quickly changed that. Deflecting a Northwestern hand off pass, she made a layup on the end after struggling for possession with Wood.
The Wildcats responded quickly, however, and on the next possession scored with a basket from graduate student forward Courtney Shaw. Followed by a steal from Sydney Wood and a fast break finish by Lau, it was all tied up at 25.
The rest of the quarter was a back and forth, neither team truly able to gain the high ground. As each team came into their locker rooms for half time, Northwestern was up 36-34, largely powered by Shaw’s nine second quarter points.
The third quarter was not as successful for the Wildcats. Despite opening the half with baskets from third year guard Jasmine McWilliams and Mott, the Nittany Lions got hot and went on a 15-2 run. Penn State reinstated its full court press, but this time to its desired effect. The Wildcats struggled bringing the ball up to half court after each inbounds and had nine turnovers in the third quarter alone.
With 2:49 remaining Lau hit her second three-pointer, ending a three-and-a-half minute NU dry spell, but little else was falling for the ’Cats. Penn State continued its excellency on offense and ended the quarter up 56-47.
Northwestern mounted its final attack to start the fourth. Powered by baskets from Walsh, Mott and fourth year guard Kaylah Rainey, NU successfully brought the game within five. Though just as the offense seemed to get going, it slowed once again. The ’Cats shot 3-8 the rest of the quarter and committed another seven turnovers.
Penn State's finishing blow came just before the three-minute mark when first year guard Shay Ciezki stole the ball from Rainey, defusing yet another Northwestern offensive possession and setting up a layup on the other end. Penn State led 66-59, and life was fading from the ’Cats quickly.
For the final three minutes Northwestern embraced a full-court press of their own, attempting to create turnovers and turn the tides. They fought valiantly, but PSU’s squad kept their poise and made responsible decisions with the basketball, not once letting it prematurely fall into Wildcat hands. The fourth quarter ended with a final score of 74-64, Penn State.
Moving forwards, Northwestern will need to reduce its turnover margin. They had 23 on the night, which is almost six more than their already poor average of 17.7 per game. All these turnovers led to 26 points for Penn State. With only a 10 point margin of victory, that means this game could’ve gone the other way if Northwestern had taken better care of the ball.
On the bright side, the continuous improvements Lau and Mott have been showing this season are encouraging for how the team can play the rest of this year, as well as in years to come. This becomes even more heartening as the departures of Wood, Rainey and Shaw next season have been looming overhead.
What's more, Northwestern held Penn State to just 20% from outside. Defending the three at a rate like this will keep them competitive against just about any team they play against.
Despite the outcome, the Wildcats aren’t without hope, and while a tournament bid is likely out of the question, they still have the opportunity for a successful end to Big Ten play.
Northwestern plays next against Nebraska at home this Monday at 6:00 PM.
Thumbnail photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern