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Women’s Basketball: Cats beat top MAC foe, give McKeown first road win

Sarah Kuta

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Though it was an unseasonably warm 60 degree November day, Northwestern had only one forecast in mind: a season-opening win.

The Wildcats’ “Blizzard” defense seemed a touch out of place in Toledo, Ohio, but they toppled the Rockets 73-64 for the first road win of second-year coach Joe McKeown’s tenure. Junior center Amy Jaeschke scored a game-high 27 points, with sophomore forward Brittany Orban and freshman forward Kendall Hackney each adding 13 points.

The Rockets, who were predicted to finish first in the Mid-American Conferene West, led the Cats in the first four minutes to a 7-6 advantage. A pair of shots from Jaeschke opened up a 7-0 run for NU to take a 15-7 lead.

Jaeschke added eight rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals on the night. The 6-foot-5 center was also at least three inches taller than every player on Toledo.

“She understood she had a size advantage and that she had to use that,” McKeown said. “She played with a lot of poise.”

Toledo rallied to make the score 15-11 with just under 11 minutes left in the half, but the Cats extended their lead after a 3-pointer from Hackney and a layup from junior guard Beth Marshall.

McKeown’s Blizzard defense took over as the Cats held the Rockets scoreless for the next five minutes to claim a 28-13 advantage. Jaeschke said the Blizzard, which is a combination of zone and man-to-man, made it difficult for the Rockets to get in a rhythm. Toledo finished with 18 turnovers.

“They had some shooters, but the Blizzard defense really helped get out on the shooters easier and quicker,” Hackney said. “It was definitely very effective.”

The Cats also benefitted from their consistency at the charity stripe and their ability to convert points off turnovers. NU finished with a 27-4 advantage at the free throw line and a 23-14 edge in points off turnovers.

NU opened the second half with six straight points, but Toledo retaliated with a pair of treys. With 10 minutes left, the Cats extended their lead to 21. The Rockets rallied with a 15-4 run to cut NU’s lead to six, making it a tense game down the stretch.

But a pair of free throws from both Orban and Hackney put NU back ahead by double digits. In the last three minutes, NU went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, finishing 81.8 percent (27-of-33) on the night.

“If we can do that all year, that makes us really hard to play against at the end of the game,” McKeown said. “The good thing is that it came from all different people.”

Hackney said she thought the flawless free throw performance at the end of the game was an indicator of the team’s character – one that isn’t going to back down.

“We were going to stick it out and we didn’t give up,” Hackney said. “We persevered through the end and that really emphasized how we’re planning on playing the rest of the season.”

Hackney finished her college debut 5-of-9 from the field with five boards and two steals. After months of practice with her new team, Hackney was finally able to don her purple jersey and help the Cats start the season with a victory.

“It was really exhilarating to be out there playing with the team finally,” Hackney said. “I’m really glad we pulled out a win because that was a great way to start the season.” sarahkuta2012@u.northwestern.edu

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