Lackluster effort dooms Cats’ offense

Nina Mandell

After their third consecutive loss, the Wildcats had no one to blame but themselves.

They lagged on offense and played lethargically on defense.

“We had no intensity, no emotion on the floor,” junior Ifeoma Okonkwo said. “They wanted it more.”

After taking a lead into the second half for the first time in a conference game this season, Northwestern (4-14, 1-4) dropped to the bottom of the conference with a 53-42 loss to Indiana (8-6, 1-3) on Thursday night in Bloomington, Ind.

Indiana’s Cyndi Valentin burned NU for the second consecutive year. The junior guard’s jumper with 18 minutes remaining in the second half cut the Cats’ three-point lead, their biggest lead of the game, to one point, and the Hoosiers then ran away with the game.

Valentin finished with a game-high 20 points, including five in her team’s 8-0 run in the beginning of the second half. No other Hoosier scored more than 10 points. And this was after Valentin had what NU coach Beth Combs called “a bad first half.”

“I think she played harder than our whole team,” Combs said.

The Cats fought back after Indiana’s run. Okonkwo hit a pair of foul shots that trimmed Indiana’s lead to one with 12:18 left in the game, but then Valentin took over again and NU couldn’t keep pace. Less than two minutes later, the Cats faced a 10-point deficit. Valentin powered the Hoosiers on an 8-0 run, lighting up the scoreboard with two 3-pointers in less than a minute.

And once again, the Cats’ streaky play cost them. On Sunday against Michigan the lead changed eight times before NU lost by seven, and last week in a loss to Wisconsin the score was tied six times, but NU eventually fell by two points.

The Cats’ inability to hold a lead left them vulnerable to Indiana’s aggressive play. NU struggled to contain Indiana’s offense.

The Cats spent the majority of the first half trailing the Hoosiers by as many as eight points. With 13:24 left in the first half, Indiana went on a 9-0 run until a pair of foul shots by NU’s leading playmaker, Okonkwo, cut Indiana’s lead to six.

Okonkwo continued to keep the Cats in the game with six points in the first half. Forward Sarah Kwasinski also had six first-half

Okonkwo notched a double-double and led the Cats in scoring with 13 points and 11 rebounds, closely followed by Kwasinski, who finished with 11 points.

“I didn’t even know I had a double-double,” Okonkwo said. “I guess it’s good but it doesn’t really matter because we lost to a team we shouldn’t have lost to.”

Combs agreed and said that a few good plays could not make up for the team’s struggles.

“We’re down to eight players so we need everyone to come out and play,” she said. “We need 40 minutes from everyone.”

Despite their scoring, Kwasinski and Okonkwo both had trouble holding onto the ball. Kwasinski had a team-high five turnovers, followed by Okonkwo, who had four. But Okonkwo said it wasn’t Indiana’s defense, which ranked second in the Big Ten entering the game, that shut down the Cats’ offense. NU shot 33 percent from field, almost five percent below their season average and even lower than Indiana’s average. Entering the game, Indiana was the lowest-scoring team in the conference.

“I didn’t think Indiana’s defense was even that great,” Okonkwo said. “We just didn’t make the shots we needed to make when we needed to make them.”

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected].