Women’s Basketball: The one-point woes

Zach Buchanan

With her team trailing Illinois 45-44 and only seconds remaining on the clock, Northwestern guard Kristin Cartwright drove left into the lane and threw up a runner that swished through the net with 4.2 seconds left.

No basket.

Referee Mark Zentz called Cartwright for traveling, all but sealing the game for the Illini, who held onto the one-point lead to win.

“It was a little disappointing, but we still had plenty of time to get a stop on defense,” said Cartwright, who finished with 12 points, but missed a key free throw down the stretch. “We had plenty of time to still get a stop and another shot.”

NU did get a stop – Cartwright fouled Illinois guard Macie Blinn, who missed the first free throw of a one-and-one – but the Wildcats couldn’t get off another shot. Cartwright corralled the rebound, and the final buzzer sounded before she could unleash a desperation toss.

NU (5-16, 1-9 Big Ten) led by as much as eight points in the first half, but six scoreless minutes allowed Illinois to mount a 10-0 run to go ahead by two, 21-19. The Cats reclaimed the lead to send the Illini (6-16, 2-9) into the locker room at halftime trailing 27-24, but another six-minute scoreless patch to open the second half prevented NU from pulling away.

“The beginning of the second half really threw us back,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We just played on our heels.”

Illinois center Jenna Smith provided almost half of her team’s offense, scoring a game-high 19 points. The Cats were unable to contain the Illini’s athletic 6-foot-3-inch junior, especially when early foul trouble landed NU center Amy Jaeschke on the bench.

But Smith made just eight of her 22 shots and turned the ball over five times, which McKeown attributed to his team’s strong defensive effort.

Jaeschke was constantly double-teamed when she was on the court, which freed things up for the sophomore’s elder cousin, senior forward Ellen Jaeschke. The older Jaeschke had a breakout game, recording a team-high in three categories with 14 points, 11 rebounds and five steals. Her steals total was also a career high.

“I think (Ellen) does a good job of playing off Amy’s double-teams, cleans up some offensive rebounds, makes some shots around the basket and gets fouled,” McKeown said. “I was really proud of her tonight.”

Losing close games to teams with winning records may offer consolation for the Cats, but falling by a point to the Illini, whom the Cats led in the standings before the game, is not a moral victory.

But McKeown doesn’t expect to win a lot of games in his first year as a coach trying to turn around an underachieving program. Getting the team to buy into the system is what matters, he said, and the fact that his team is still playing hard despite little success is a sign that they’re making progress.

“They don’t even know what the record is. Everything’s been irrelevant,” McKeown said of his team. “It’s more about the way we play and being a family. When you’re trying to build a tradition in a program, they have to buy into that, and I think they are because the effort’s there.”

That’s not to say this is a lost season for the Cats. McKeown still has high hopes for the Big Ten Tournament, and his players still want to see tangible results of their progress in the win column. Losses hurt enough to drive them to improve.

“We’re just not finishing yet,” Cartwright said. “In this game we didn’t, but I think we’re getting there.”

[email protected]