Cats hoping return home brings wins (Women’s Basketball)

Jimmy Mitchell

After a rocky week of travel plagued by inclement weather and a pair of losses to conference foes, the Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena in hopes of improving what has thus far been a disappointing season.

Northwestern (4-20, 0-12 Big Ten) will battle Michigan (13-9, 6-6) tonight at 7 p.m. The Wolverines have lost four of the teams’ last six meetings, but NU has dropped 12 straight Big Ten contests in its current 13-game losing streak.

The Cats’ last win came on Dec. 17 at Marquette. NU has not claimed a victory at Welsh-Ryan since Nov. 30.

Regardless of its poor play of late, senior forward Melissa Miller said NU is happy to be home.

“Having two or three road games in a row is always a little tiring,” she said. “Hopefully we can get a couple of wins (at Welsh-Ryan).”

Not content with merely a change of scenery, NU coach Beth Combs has been making adjustments to the Cats’ game plan to help her team escape from the loss column.

Those adjustments include a recent modification to the starting lineup. Miller and junior guard Erin Dickerson, both regularly bench players, started in place of freshman center Amy Jaeschke and freshman guard Meshia Reed in the Cats’ 68-48 loss Sunday at Minnesota.

The alteration, which was propelled by a desire to become smaller and faster, revealed a willingness on NU’s part to be innovative in the face of adversity.

“We’ve been mixing it up a lot (in practice) with people playing with people we usually don’t with in games,” Miller said. “I think overall we match up well with Michigan at every position.”

Michigan has been accurate from the floor this season: Its 42.8 field-goal percentage places it fourth in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are also third in free-throw percentage and lead the conference in 3-point field goals.

NU has struggled from the field all season, with a conference-worst 36.2 percent. The Cats loss to the Gophers was an extension of this trend, as they knocked down only 20-of-53 shots, its 18th game shooting less than 40 percent this season.

“Hopefully we’ll shoot a lot better than we did last game. That kind of killed us,” said Miller. “Defensively, (Michigan) has really good shooters, and we’ve put a lot emphasis this week in practice getting out on shooters and knowing where their best shooters are on the floor at all times.”

Changes in location and strategy may be important for NU, but Miller admitted that a change in philosophy is what is needed to salvage the rest of the Cats’ season.

“I think the biggest step is just knowing that we can win, that we can match up well with Michigan, and that they’re very beatable,” Miller said. “But when you lose as many in a row as we have, it gets a little discouraging after a while.”

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