NU set for first contest of year

Andrea Cohen

The Northwestern women’s basketball team didn’t have much success against a zone defense on Tuesday, so perhaps they will have better luck against Northern Illinois’ man-to-man scheme on Sunday.

The Wildcats, who split their exhibition schedule, will take on the Huskies in Welsh-Ryan Arena Sunday afternoon for their first regular-season game. On Nov. 6, NU beat the Chicago Challengers, a team of ex-college players, 79-57. The Cats then lost 60-54 to RTU Klondaika, a Latvian club team, a week later.

NU struggled against RTU Klondaika’s zone defense, playing rushed offense and making bad passes.

“We tried to run a pattern offense instead of reading the defense,” Cats head coach June Olkowski said.

The result was 25 NU turnovers — 16 of them committed in the second half alone — as the Cats were burned in transition.

NU was unable to make up for the 27 points they gave up off turnovers — they shot only 32 percent from the field, and no player scored in double-digits.

Olkowski said her players took good shots, but they just couldn’t find a rhythm and relax.

“When you miss a couple of shots, the basket gets a little smaller,” she said.

The Cats hope to find a bigger basket against Northern Illinois and its man-to-man defense, a set the Cats are much more familiar with.

“We definitely practice it more,” junior forward Natalie Will said. “It’s not an excuse (for Tuesday’s loss), but we have good plays against man, and we get good looks.”

The Cats also play a man-to-man defense, but Olkowski said her team will slowly add more chapters to its playbook as the year progresses.

“We’re a young team, and it’s early in the year,” Olkowski said. “Do we have all of our offenses in? Do we have all of our defenses in? No. There’s no sense in doing six different things at 50 percent. It might be better to do three different things at 90 percent.”

Northern Illinois lost both of its exhibition games, first to The Odyssey on Nov. 1 and then to the Chicago Challengers on Nov. 8.

The Odyssey, another traveling squad of ex-college players, beat the Huskies 57-43. Northern Illinois lost to the Chicago Challengers 57-55, but won the rebounding battle 32-30. NU beat the Challengers handily, although the exhibition team outrebounded the Cats 48-36.

Junior Jessica Shattuck, Northern Illinois’ 6-foot-4 center, should provide a challenge for NU’s young post players, particularly 6-foot-4 freshman center Sarah Kwasinski.

On Tuesday against RTU Klondaika, Olkowski started upperclassmen Emily Butler, Ashley Messenger and Natalie Will in the backcourt, as well as freshmen Maria McCarthy and Suzanne Morrison in the post. Olkowski said she will shake up NU’s lineup for Sunday’s game.

Northern Illinois will play Wisconsin-Milwaukee tonight before heading to Evanston on Sunday. After not practicing Thursday, the Cats will prepare for the Huskies today and Saturday in practices that they hope will be better than last week’s.

“The way we played on Tuesday reflected the way we practiced last week,” Will said. “We would look really sharp and play well, then the next minute we’d be off. It’s like Coach O always says: ‘You can’t just come to practice and turn on a switch.’ Hopefully (today’s) practice will be good and that will be reflected in the game.”