Jaeschke can save Wildcats (Women’s Basketball)

Matt Baker

It’s hard to be optimistic after Monday night’s 79-65 loss at home to Wisconsin.

The Wildcats haven’t finished outside the bottom three in the Big Ten since 1997. They haven’t won more than two conference games since coach Beth Combs took over in 2004, and last year’s squad set a Big Ten single-season record with 18 straight losses.

Northwestern squandered an eight-point first-half lead against the Badgers and let one of its last shots at that elusive first Big Ten win slip away.

But NU has one reason to be positive about its future: freshman center Amy Jaeschke.

The McDonald’s All-American came in as the most highly touted recruit in the program’s history. And she hasn’t disappointed.

She’s led NU in rebounding and/or scoring in 12 of the last 16 games, including her 20-point night against Wisconsin.

After the first four minutes against the Badgers, the scoreboard read Jaeschke 8, Wisconsin 6. She finished the half with 16 points in just 15 minutes.

But her importance to NU became most apparent in those five minutes she was on the bench.

When Jaeschke left the game, the Cats led by five. In her absence, the Badgers exploded with an 11-2 run in just two minutes to grab a 37-33 lead they would never relinquish.

But as phenomenal as she looked at times, swatting away two layups and drawing fouls in the paint, she looked like any other freshman at others.

She was called for traveling twice. She missed rotations in the zone defense. And her offense that dominated in the first half disappeared in the second, as she mustered only four points.

Combs attributed Jaeschke’s Houdini effort to fatigue. Jaeschke said it was frustration. Both are freshman mistakes, and both will disappear with time.

They have to. The burden of saving NU’s reputation falls on Jaeschke alone. And it’s a burden the 18-year-old is willing to accept.

“As a freshman, you’re kind of brought in to make a difference, to change something that isn’t currently there in the program,” Jaeschke said.

At NU, that change is winning.

The Cats have now dropped 15 straight games. They’ll probably lose the four left on their schedule and break the Big Ten record for longest single-season losing streak they set last year.

But NU can still change its culture – as long as Jaeschke’s 6-foot-5 frame can bear the burden.

Deputy sports editor Matt Baker is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]