Third-year forward Caileigh Walsh goes up for a basket. She led the 'Cats with 17 points and 12 rebounds Thursday night. Photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern

Redemption was in reach Thursday night as Northwestern women’s basketball (7-13, 2-7 B1G) faced Penn State (15-5, 6-3 B1G) for the second time this season.

Ultimately, the ’Cats fell 76-65 to the Lady Lions. Penn State beat Northwestern by 40 points in early January, but this time, the ’Cats put up a better fight.

“Obviously, it sucks that we lost, but I think our team is really proud of how much better we played this time than last time we played them,” graduate guard Maggie Pina said in a post-game press conference.

The game opened with back-and-forth baskets that saw Northwestern up 7-6 early on. Then, Penn State went on a 17-6 run to leave the ’Cats trailing by 10 points at the end of the first frame. The first-quarter deficit has become something of a leitmotif this season. Of the 19 games Northwestern has played, they have led at the end of the first period of play in only two, while Thursday’s game is the seventh in which they have trailed by at least 10 points.

The ’Cats caught a second-quarter spark from third-year guard Melannie Daley, who put up three consecutive baskets in just over a minute of play. As the quarter progressed, Northwestern assembled a combination of quick passes, fast breaks and determined defense that slowly chipped away at Penn State’s lead. At the halftime buzzer, the Lady Lions led 38-32.

Penn State’s fourth-year forward Ali Brigham opened up the second half scoring with a basket in the paint, but the ’Cats responded quickly. Third-year forward Caileigh Walsh hit a short-range jumper, followed by a three from second-year guard Caroline Lau on the following possession. After the Lady Lions went scoreless on three straight possessions, Pina put the ’Cats up 44-41 with a jumper from beyond the arc, capping off a 12-1 run.

Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last. The ’Cats managed to keep it close and even briefly went ahead again early in the fourth quarter, but as Northwestern’s shots stopped falling and Penn State turned up the heat on defense, the Lady Lions pulled away. Led by graduate guard Makenna Marisa, who scored 20 points and hit 2,000 career points with a third-quarter layup, and graduate guard Ashley Owusu, who racked up 20 points of her own, along with seven rebounds and five assists, Penn State simply outlasted the ’Cats.

Foul trouble plagued Northwestern throughout the game. The ’Cats committed a whopping 28 fouls to Penn State’s 18, sending the Lady Lions to the line on 16 occasions and allowing them to rack up 22 points off free throws alone.

Apart from the disappointing fourth quarter, when the ’Cats spent the last five minutes without hitting a single shot from the field, Northwestern put together a decent offensive showing. Quick passes and cuts worked well against Penn State’s near-constant press defense.

“The bye week that we had, all we did was work on pressing,” Daley said of the team’s preparation for what they knew was a tough defense to crack. “We just worked on staying poised and confident and calm and just getting the ball across the court.”

Walsh led the team with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Daley added 12 points, Pina put up 11 points and fourth-year guard Jasmine McWilliams tied her career-high five assists.

Northwestern suffered a blowout loss on the road against #14 Indiana (17-2, 8-1 B1G) on Sunday, and will host #5 Iowa (19-2, 8-1 B1G) on Wednesday. The ’Cats are in the thick of conference play; now’s the time to turn on the heat.

Thumbnail photo by AJ Anderson/North by Northwestern.