Not So Sweet Sixteen (Women’s Basketball)

Matt Baker

By Matt BakerThe Daily Northwestern

Coach Beth Combs went into Thursday night’s game against No. 5 Ohio State preaching ball control to a team averaging 20 turnovers per game and a -12 rebound differential.

Northwestern repaired its Achilles heels against the Buckeyes, but an awful shooting night doomed the Wildcats.

Ohio State held the Cats to 30.2 percent shooting as NU dropped its 16th straight game, 66-42 Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“We talked about this being sort of a new season for us,” Combs said. “In the month of February we hadn’t played in yet, and we wanted to take the month of February and start over for the season.”

NU (6-17, 0-10 Big Ten) hung with Ohio State (20-1, 9-0) early, forcing the Buckeyes into a shot clock violation on the game’s first possession. The Cats took a 5-2 lead off of a 3 by sophomore Kristin Cartwright – who would lead the Cats with 12 points – two minutes into the game, and led 9-8 with 14:30 left in the half.

And then NU went cold.

The Buckeyes went on a 26-4 run over the next 12 minutes to take the lead for good. Back-to-back 3’s by Ohio State guard Maria Moeller put the Buckeyes up by 21 with 2:32 to play in the half.

The Cats’ poor shooting ruined their chances for an upset. NU shot just 21 percent in the first 17 minutes of the first half, missing 9 of 10 3-pointers. Ohio State shot 56.5 percent from the field.

NU closed the half on a 7-2 run, but Ohio State still led 36-20 at the break.

Despite the lopsided score, Combs said the Cats showed progress with 11 steals, only 10 turnovers and a +2 edge in offensive rebounds.

“Those are things we’ve talked about over and over again,” Combs said. “I thought we had some unbelievable hustle plays. If we can do that against the No. 5 team in the country, then those are things we can build with.”

The second half was the same poor shooting story for the Cats. Ohio State burst from the locker room with a 16-4 run in the half’s first seven minutes to seal the game.

Though the Cats had 14 more shots than the Buckeyes, Combs said they could not take advantage of the additional opportunities.

“We’ve got to make a play,” Combs said. “When you get that many second chance opportunities and that much of a leeway against a good team, you’ve got to make a play.”

After trailing the Buckeyes by 28, junior Nadia Bibbs’ pretty passing sparked the NU’s offense. Bibbs cut to the rim and dished a behind-the-back pass to freshman Kaitlin McInerney for an easy basket to cut the lead to 26.

Junior Sara Stutz capped off a 12-4 run for the Cats with 3-point play off of a lay-up to bring NU within 18. Her free-throw with just over six minutes left was the Cats’ first point from the line all game. NU finished the game 1-9 from the free-throw line; Ohio State was 15-21.

“It’s the charity stripe; you’re supposed to knock those down,” Bibbs said. “If we get those, it’s like eight points closer. It’s the little things.”

Cartwright said the Cats will take confidence in their ability to control the ball from their effort against the Buckeyes. NU will look to prevent its losing streak from tying the school record record for most consecutive losses at Michigan (9-13, 2-7). NU dropped 17 straight to end the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons.

“I think we just need to do what we did tonight,” Cartwright said. “We didn’t have that many turnovers. If we have the same intensity Sunday that we did tonight, we should be able to pull out a win.”

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