NU handling loss of player (Woman’s Basketball)

avid Morrison

It almost seemed like everything was normal.

The Wildcats passed, shot and rebounded like usual. They ended their practice session with free throws and a meeting at center court.

There was even a player in a white, No. 24 jersey participating in the drills.

But this No. 24 was guard Holly Palin, a four-year starter for the field hockey team who joined the basketball squad after the other No. 24, forward Kelly Rae Finley, left the team Monday.

Along with the challenge of preparing for Saturday’s game against Creighton, Northwestern found itself struggling with the sudden departure of one of its key components.

“It’s been different, but everyone is staying positive. We need to have a lot more energy now that our numbers are decreased,” center Melissa Miller said. “It’s not going to be like a one-day turnaround, but I think we’re doing a much better job with that.”

Palin was a four-year starter for her high school basketball team before concentrating on field hockey in college.

She said she kept her game in fairly good shape using pick-up games at SPAC.

“Field hockey is so much running, so I knew I was in good shape coming in,” she said. “But field hockey shape and basketball shape are different, so I was a little worried. But it’s been fine.”

Creighton comes into Welsh-Ryan this weekend on the strength of four straight postseason tournament appearances and two strong exhibition wins over Central Missouri State and South Dakota.

The Cats haven’t been to a postseason tournament in eight years and are still reeling from their 86-68 loss to the Chicago Challengers last Friday.

“They’re a great fundamental team. They’re always tough to play, and it’s a good opener for us,” coach Beth Combs said. “I’m glad we have them at home. I think it gives us a little motivation, but they’re going to be tough.”

In last year’s opener, Creighton beat the Cats 77-65 in Omaha, Neb., forcing 23 turnovers and out-rebounding NU 51-41.

After grabbing eight fewer rebounds than the Challengers and being outscored in the paint in Friday’s loss, a big concern going into the opener is NU’s command of the area between the foul line and the basket.

Miller said the Cats’ athleticism should match up well against the Blue Jays’ frontcourt.

“They don’t have a true post player. So I think that’s going to be a lot easier for us since we have (forward Ifeoma Okonkwo), Julie (Bielawski) and Lauren (Roberts),” she said. “They’re post, but they’re quick post and they can play like guards. I think that will help out a lot to match up with them because they’re quick and they can play like guards as well.”

After the Creighton loss last year, the Cats stumbled to a 1-9 start and never proved able to turn things around.

Guard Nadia Bibbs said the team understands the importance of this weekend’s game in the context of the rest of the season.

“I think we definitely need some motivation,” she said. “We want to try and get the momentum going so we can go through the non-conference season, and turn out pretty good in the Big Ten.”

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