Four years later, class of ’05 paces NU in last home game (Women’s Basketball)

Nina Mandell and Nina Mandell

When it comes to playing time, Northwestern coach Beth Combs has never been one to adhere to the doctrine of seniority.

But when she ceremonially started her seniors for Senior Day, they proved they had learned something in their four years on the team — even if this hasn’t been the best season for all of them.

For the first time all year, the seniors showed leadership as they scored the majority of NU’s points and played more minutes than they have in any other game.

Senior Melissa Culver’s appearance on the court has been rare this season. She played more than 20 minutes for the first time all season in the Wildcats’ Feb. 24 game against Wisconsin and has filled the roles of three-point specialist and energy spark for NU.

Against Minnesota on Sunday, Culver was a solid presence in 30 minutes on the floor.

“The last couple of games, we’ve been having a lot of fun,” Culver said. “We knew we only had a few games left … we really were just more aggressive today.”

She wasn’t the only senior to find herself back in her prime.

Combs started all four of her seniors, including two players — Suzanne Morrison and Culver — who are not usually in the starting lineup.

Unlike most games where the substitution rotation begins as soon as 17 minutes remain in the first half, the senior lineup stayed in beyond the ceremonial necessity.

“You’re going to leave it all on the floor, and I think we accomplished that today without a doubt,” McComb said. “We just looked at everyone in the eyes today and knew we were ready to go.”

The seniors have been plagued by injury, illness and other problems throughout the season.

Morrison, who has been healthy for the longest stretch since her ankle injury in a 2004 preseason game, had logged the fewest minutes of any of the seniors. But Sunday she was on the court for 23 minutes to score 11 points and grab four rebounds.

Back from an illness that has kept her playing time low since Feb. 16, Sarah Kwasinski was back to normal, playing 27 minutes.

McComb is the only senior who has not suffered a setback this season, and she played her usual 34 minutes. With Culver finishing the seniors’ effort with seven points, two assists and three steals, NU coach Beth Combs said the class of 2005 showed the effort she had been looking for all season.

“All I wanted was for 40 minutes every game was to have that effort and intensity,” she said. “When you have a program that’s trying to rebuild and you have four seniors that have been such an important part of their last four years here, they deserve to step up and be honored today.”

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