Shot consistency crucial for Cats to overcome Hoosiers (Women’s Basketball)

David Kalan

After jumping ahead quickly against No. 8 Ohio State a week ago and holding a second-half lead in a close loss to Illinois on Sunday, there is consensus among players and coaches that Northwestern’s young team is improving.

In practice this week, the team emphasized finishing off games and making plays down the stretch. Once this happens, there is hope that games like Sunday’s – when NU trailed by four with 3:29 left – will become wins.

“You have to make plays,” freshman Erin Dickerson said. “Against Illinois we had opportunities, we just couldn’t finish it.”

Converting these late-game opportunities will be important as the Wildcats (4-10, 0-2 Big Ten) try to notch their first Big Ten win of the year tonight against Indiana (8-7, 2-2).

While the Hoosiers have a winning record, they shared the Big Ten cellar with the Cats last year, finishing ninth with only three conference wins.

“Indiana’s a great matchup for us,” coach Beth Combs said. “They’re playing really well and they’re taking people to four- and five-point ball games. They’re probably a little bit above where we are.”

Indiana senior Jenny DeMuth is fourth in the Big Ten with 7.9 rebounds per game. Senior Cyndi Valentin is averaging 17.0 points, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals a game, all team highs.

Valentin, who has made her last 60 free throws, will eclipse the Division I single-season record for consecutive free throws if she makes her next shot from the charity stripe.

If the Cats are to pull off the victory, they will likely need more production from the bench, where starter-in-disguise Ifeoma Okonkwo’s 16 points accounted for the bench’s entire offensive output against Illinois.

“They’ve just got to be a lot smarter in their shot selection,” Okonkwo said. “As far as the post, they need to put themselves in a better position, because if you just get yourselves into position, the guards will feed the ball into you. As far as everyone else, they’ve got to look for their shots and just get in better position to shoot.”

The task will be tougher for the bench, which learned on Tuesday that freshman center Julie Bielawski will miss Thursday’s game due to illness.

Combs admits that the bench is not deep, but it is not her only concern.

“Our starters need to be more consistent,” Combs said. “We’re not shooting the ball well at all. We need to put the ball in the hole.”

Reach David Kalan at [email protected]