Third-year guard Melannie Daley goes up for a jumper. With 25 points Thursday night, she was a pivotal part of Northwestern's win. Photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern

Anxiety ran high at Welsh Ryan Arena as a nerve-wracking fourth quarter gave way to overtime. Northwestern Women’s Basketball (2-0, 0-0 B1G) was locked in a hard-fought battle with the UIC Flames (2-1, 0-0 Missouri Valley) to open the 2023-24 season.

Third-year guard Hailey Weaver opened the overtime scoring with a jumper from beyond the arc, putting the ’Cats up 78-75.  As the period continued, Northwestern took full control. After three straight buckets from third-year guard Melannie Daley extended the Wildcat lead to eight, the clock ran out in a decidedly less stressful fashion. Northwestern wasted time dribbling, UIC fouled and the ’Cats made their free throws to close the game out 92-86.

To fully understand how the game became such a heart-attack-inducing affair, let’s go back to the beginning: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9, Welsh Ryan Arena.

The game started right for the Wildcats. After winning the tip-off, Northwestern led for much of the first quarter, going up 16-10 with just over two minutes left in the first frame. Ultimately, however, the lead was short-lived. Five straight missed shots from the ’Cats and a series of made ones from the Flames – including a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer – put Northwestern in a 19-16 deficit to start the second quarter.

From there, the gap only grew. UIC’s scoring streak continued into the second quarter, while the ’Cats went 33.3% from the field. Northwestern’s biggest struggle during the first half was their inability to convert on scoring opportunities. While both teams turned the ball over eight times in the first half, Northwestern scored just four points off those turnovers to UIC’s 16. Poor shooting and difficulty finishing under the basket put the ’Cats in a 14-point hole as they headed into the locker room at halftime.

Following the break, the ’Cats clawed back. With a combination of ferocious stops on defense and a 58.8% shooting percentage, Northwestern trimmed UIC’s lead point by point until a layup by fourth-year forward Paige Mott put the ’Cats up 53-52 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.

Two free throws by second-year guard Caroline Lau and a jumper by third-year forward Caileigh Walsh extended Northwestern’s lead to five entering the fourth quarter.

The next 10 minutes were a whirlwind of play that sent the collective energy – and the collective anxiety – through the roof. Northwestern and UIC traded the lead back and forth amidst hard fouls. A UIC free throw tied the game up at 75 with 17 seconds left, and a missed three-point attempt by Lau sent the game into a fifth period of play.

Northwestern’s ultimate victory at the end of the night represents a shift from some of last year’s tough losses. This time, the ’Cats came back.

“We have a chip on our shoulder, last year, it was rough,” Daley said of the team mentality. “So we’re fighting for everything. And that’s what we told ourselves in the second half.”

On top of the team victory, the night was also one for setting personal bests. Daley, who sat out the bulk of last season due to injury, scored a career-high 25 points and led the team with a shooting percentage of 57.1%.

Mott had a standout night under the basket, grabbing a career-high 20 rebounds and scoring 13 points. Lau ran the offense with ease, dishing out a career-high 15 assists while recording 16 points. All five of Northwestern’s starters scored double-digit points, Walsh putting up 19 – along with 12 rebounds – and Weaver scoring 15.

“They never gave up tonight when things weren’t going well,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “I think that’s a great sign for us.”

Northwestern kept the energy alive on Sunday against Omaha (1-2, 0-0 Summit League) with an easy 87-69 victory at home. The ’Cats play next on Wednesday at Notre Dame (1-1, 0-0 ACC), when they’ll look to avenge the 58-92 defeat they faced last year against the Fighting Irish.

Thumbnail photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern