Undersized Wildcats Try For Upset (Women’s Basketball)

Matt Baker

By Matt BakerThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern’s undersized post players face a tall order in stacking up against Michigan State tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Wildcats (6-18, 0-10 Big Ten) have just five active players who are at least 6-feet tall, while the Spartans (17-6, 8-2) boast seven players that size, including 6-foot-9 center Allyssa DeHaan. NU’s tallest player is 6-foot-2 sophomore Julie Bielawski.

“We are probably the smallest post players in the Big Ten by far,” Bielawski said. “We’ve been playing girls bigger than us the whole time. They have a lot of big girls, so we need to be very aggressive, and we need to be physical right from the start.”

NU’s undermanned post players have struggled off of the glass this season. The Cats are ranked last in the Big Ten in every rebounding category. The Spartans are third in the conference in rebounding, grabbing 41 boards per game.

But coach Beth Combs said NU’s lack of size has contributed little to the team’s 17-game losing streak, tied for the longest single-season skid in the program’s history.

“We only have three true post players, and we’re stuck with a very undersized team, but that’s not the main reason we’re struggling,” Combs said. “We’re just not scoring. We’re getting good shots, but we’re just not putting the ball in the hoop.”

The Cats will face another challenge in scoring against the Spartans. Despite being only a freshman, DeHaan is second in the nation with 4.5 blocks per game. Her 104 blocks is the fourth highest single-season total in Big Ten history.

“(6-foot-9) is a very tremendous difference in height, but it comes down to how you get position on a girl,” Bielawski said. “If you’re quicker than her, you can beat her on a drive.”

Because NU lacks size in the post, Combs said every player on the court has to contribute to stopping larger players. By putting more defensive pressure on guards, the Cats can create turnovers before opponents’ big players touch the ball.

Plugging the passing lanes keeps opponents from lobbing the ball to teammates in the paint for an easy basket. And every player regardless of size can focus on boxing out opponents.

“It’s a matter of intensity,” Combs said. “We just have to focus on getting position. It’s a matter of getting a body on somebody.”

Bielawski said the Cats’ can overcome the size difference by coming out with intensity and attacking the Spartans early in tonight’s game at 7 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Though Michigan State is ranked No. 24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and went to the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Bielawski said NU has a chance to slay its Goliath.

“At the beginning of the year, Hofstra beat Michigan State, and it was a huge victory for them,” Bielawski said. “The underdog came out on top then, and it can definitely happen for us.”

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