Women’s Basketball: Northwestern downs Illinois in Champaign

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon takes a shot against the Illini. The team managed to edge out Illinois 62-58.

Rebecca Friedman, Assistant Sports Editor

The second time was the charm for the Wildcats on Sunday, when Northwestern clinched its first Big Ten victory of the year against Illinois.

NU brushed off its 65-47 loss to Illinois and, in the teams’ second meeting of the season, claimed a 62-58 win over its in-state rival.

“We handled their pressure better, made better decisions, took care of the basketball better, got better shots and didn’t rush,” coach Joe McKeown said about his team’s improved play in comparison to the teams’ first matchup. 

The Cats were determined to beat the Fighting Illini and focused on countering Illinois’ defensive strengths throughout practice during the bye week.

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon explained that NU practiced with six defenders during practice in order to best mimic the type of pressure that the Fighting Illini put on them.

“We faced their pressure in a game situation before and knew how crazy it was,” Lyon said. “We knew what to expect.”

Lyon also emphasized the Cats improved ability to stay calm and more efficiently work the offense.

The teams were neck and neck throughout a game that featured eight ties and six different lead changes. The Cats, however, were able to score the final four points in the last minute and 31 seconds to seal the victory.

The game started out close, but NU rode an 8-0 run into the locker room, putting them up 25-20.

The Cats came out strong in the second half, but the Fighting Illini eventually took a 32-31 lead with 15 minutes left. However, the Cats battled back and evened the score at 50 with seven minutes and 24 seconds left.

Illinois rode its impressive free throw shooting for the most of the game, obtaining a 54-50 lead thanks to four free throws. Karisma Penn, the leading scorer and rebounder for the Fighting Illini, fouled out in the last few minutes, and the Cats were able to capitalize on Illinois’ weakness.

After continued battling, the Cats took the lead with one minute and 32 seconds left after a layup by Lyon. Sophomore forward Alex Cohen sealed the victory with two free throws for the Cats.

“The whole game they had been pressuring us,” Lyon said. “We were trying to pass out of it and pass to the middle. Near the end of the game there was a lot of pressure on me and the ball handler. I just tried to get around them. The lane was open and I wanted to finish to the basket and get a boost for the team.”

McKeown was especially proud of his team’s poise in the last few minutes of the game.

Senior forward Kendall Hackney led the Cats in scoring with 21 points, while Cohen had her first career double-double with career-highs 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Dannielle Diamant added 13 points, and Lyon chipped in 11 more.

“It was a team effort,” Cohen said. “We’ve been waiting for this win. We needed this win. We did a good job coming in and showing that we should have won the first time.”

While their poise and offensive consistency was much improved from previous losses, the Cats still turned over the ball 23 times, something McKeown still wants to work on. Still, he said he is proud of their improvement in the category.

“We’re like ‘The Biggest Loser’, we’re going in the right direction, 34-23,” he said, referencing the Cats’ 34 turnovers in their last matchup against the Fighting Illini.NU faces Purdue in its next Big Ten matchup and is confident coming off of its first conference victory.

“This gets us back on track and gives us our confidence back,” Lyon said.

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