Women’s Basketball: NU stymied by offensive struggles

Danny Daly

Before Northwestern began watching film to prepare for Illinois during Tuesday’s practice, coach Joe McKeown praised his team for their recent defensive efforts.

The Wildcats held Minnesota to just 43 points and 30.8 percent shooting on Sunday despite playing in front of a road crowd of nearly 7,500 fans. NU’s defense also stepped up earlier this month against Wisconsin and Purdue, limiting the Badgers to 46 points and holding three of the Boilermakers’ top four scorers below their average points per game in regulation.

Two of those three defensive performances were squandered because the Cats were unable to generate any offense of their own. Entering Thursday, NU had failed to shoot higher than 40 percent from the field in all six January games, never topping 60 points. McKeown told his players the only way they could start pulling out more close games would be to create and take advantage of a few more scoring opportunities.

“Here’s the key for us – we got to find those (extra) six or eight points,” he said.

But Thursday night’s contest against Illinois followed a very similar script, ending in a disappointing 45-44 loss that dropped NU to last in the Big Ten.

The Cats prevented the Illini from reaching their average scoring output and shooting percentage but shot only 34.7 percent themselves and made just 1-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“We should have attacked the basket more to draw fouls,” junior guard Kristin Cartwright said. “We were getting fouls or baskets when we were driving.”

NU had two scoring droughts of six minutes or more, one near the end of the first half and the other to start the second half.

In the last two minutes of the game, the Cats had three turnovers and made one free throw, allowing the Illini to overcome the 43-41 deficit and come away with the win. Two of the turnovers were controversial – an offensive foul by senior guard Erin Dickerson and a traveling call on Cartwright with five seconds left.

McKeown said it was frustrating to waste another impressive defensive outing. Illinois center Jenna Smith, who led the Big Ten with 16 double-doubles last year and was an Associated Press honorable mention All-American, shot less than 37 percent and was careless with the ball.

“I thought defensively we did everything we wanted to do,” McKeown said. “Even though Smith got 19 points, she (shot) 8-for-22 and had five turnovers. I would take that any time playing against a player of her caliber.”

Turnovers continued to ail the Cats, particularly down the stretch. NU committed 20 miscues for the game, with over half of that total coming in the second half. It was the sixth consecutive game the Cats had at least 17 turnovers and the tenth time this season they had 20 or more.

“We have too many turnovers,” McKeown said. “Twenty turnovers at home against a team that really didn’t pressure you until half court, if that – no excuse for that.”

Another factor that has caused the team to sputter on offense is its failure to take advantage of open looks on the outside when sophomore center Amy Jaeschke is double-teamed in the paint. The Cats have made just 10.5 percent from 3-point range in their past three games.

The continued offensive problems in yet another heartbreaking loss left McKeown echoing his message from the Tuesday film session, but he was optimistic for his team’s chances in the coming weeks.

“The same thing happened to us against Minnesota, the same thing happened to us against Purdue,” he said. “We have to find five or six points somewhere over the next couple of weeks. Then I think we can be a really dangerous team in the Big Ten tournament.”

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