After More Than Two Months Of Suffering, NU Exuberant After Victory (Women’s Basketball)

Matt Baker

By Matt BakerThe Daily Northwestern

“Woo-hoo!”

Coach Beth Combs’ exclamation after the game said it all. After breaking Northwestern’s single-season record with 18 straight losses, the Wildcats earned their first win in more than two month with a 64-61 victory over Penn State on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“I don’t even know the words to express it,” freshman Beth Marshall said. “I’m just so happy. We worked so hard for this. It’s just awesome.”

The Cats opened the season with their best start in a decade, winning six of their first seven games and landing two votes in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

But after beating Princeton 67-53 on Dec. 1, NU went cold. The Cats dropped their next game at home against Northern Illinois by 16, and the losing skid began. NU lost its next 17 games – the longest losing streak by a Big Ten school in a decade.

Fourteen of NU’s 18 straight losses were by double digits, and eight were by more than 20. The Cats opened 2007 with an 85-53 loss on the road against the Lady Lions.

“Penn State is unbelievably tough to play at home,” Combs said. “It’s a very hostile environment. Our kids today knew we were not the same team that we were a month and a half ago against them.”

After back-to-back heartbreaking, two-point losses at home against Iowa and Minnesota, NU collapsed. The Cats lost their next six games by an average of 31 points and scored the fewest points since the program’s first season in 1975-1976 when Purdue held them to 30 points on Jan. 25.

But NU began to improve the last few games. The Cats cut their turnovers in half against Ohio State and on the road against Michigan on Feb. 4.

“We knew we had played well the last couple of games, but we just needed to get over the hump,” Combs said. “It’s a matter of taking a stand. You can’t really explain it.”

NU took Michigan State, a team that has flirted with the top 25 all season, down to the wire Thursday. Despite making more free-throws than the Spartans attempted and forcing 11 steals, the Cats lost by seven.

“Our last game we played really well, so it was frustrating we did everything we could and couldn’t pull out a win,” sophomore Kristin Cartwright said

As NU clung to a one-point lead with three seconds left, senior captain A.J. Glasauer said she hid her eyes as Marshall drained two free-throws to seal the game.

But when the buzzer echoed in a boisterous Welsh-Ryan Arena and the pep band burst into the school’s fight song, the Cats celebrated their first win of 2007 at half-court.

After weeks of taking moral victories from small, in-game battles, Cartwright said NU’s three-point win over a sub-.500 team felt like winning a championship.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” Cartwright said. “Today when we did everything we could to pull out a win and knew we left everything out on the court, it’s great. It’s a great feeling.”