Women’s Basketball Sidebar: Supporting cast helps lessen load

Danny Daly

The Daily Northwestern dailynorthwestern.com/womens-basketball As last season wore on, center Amy Jaeschke’s frustration seemed to rise with each game. Her cousin Ellen, a more defensively minded player, provided the only help in the post.

Jasechke fought through incessant double teams-even triple and quadruple teams-when she received the ball down low. And with no one consistently knocking down shots on the perimeter, opponents could get away with it.

The Wildcats’ recent four-game conference losing streak evoked those memories from a year ago. But if Sunday’s 61-60 skid-stopping win over Minnesota proved anything, it was this: Jaeschke finally has a supporting cast capable of taking some of the weight off her shoulders.

‘It’s huge,’ Jaeschke said. ‘It makes my life a lot easier when people hit shots from the outside.’

The 61 points were the product of a balanced attack. Sophomore forward Brittany Orban and senior guard Kristin Cartwright scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, while making at least half of their shots. Freshman forward Kendall Hackney was one point shy of joining them in double figures, and classmate Dannielle Diamant came off the bench to hit all three of her attempts. Junior point guard Beth Marshall, who missed almost all of the last two years with injuries, sank two 3-pointers and dished out eight assists.

As a result, there were openings for Jaeschke inside. The junior contributed 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. In a loss at Minnesota less than two weeks ago, she managed just five tries from the field.

Jaeschke also helped spark the offense with her disciplined passing. She committed only one turnover, her lowest total in Big Ten play.

‘She played a great floor game,’ McKeown said. ‘She made other people available. That’s the sign of a great player-when you make other players better.’

The Cats seized a 9-4 lead in the opening minutes without any contribution from Jaeschke, scoring on four consecutive possessions. Compare that to last year’s home tilt Michigan State, when Jaeschke accounted for NU’s first 15 points in an eventual 74-54 loss.

Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena was a different story, and Cartwright in particular took advantage. The Cats’ second-leading scorer last season, Cartwright has taken a diminished role in the offense this year with the improvement of Orban and the additions of Hackney and Diamant. But she was perfect from the floor in the first half against the Gophers, capitalizing on a few short baseline jumpers and layup chances.

‘They’re the kind of team that gets up and pressures you, denies,’ Cartwright said.

‘They’re very active defensively. Sometimes when a team is like that, it’s easier to just go to the basket and try to find the gaps. There were a lot of gaps tonight.’ While Cartwright was a factor early, Orban made the difference late. She tallied 11 points after halftime and sank four free throws in the final two minutes to turn a 60-57 deficit into a 61-60 victory.

With a lighter burden offensively, Jaeschke stepped up her play on the other end. Minnesota center Ashley Ellis-Milan poured in 19 points earlier this season against NU, but Jaeschke limited her to two points in the rematch. Jasechke notched a key block late in the game that put the Cats in position to retake the lead.

In his preseason press conference, coach Joe McKeown joked, ‘We reinvented the 5-foot-9 power forward last year-I didn’t realize there were so many of them until they were all on my team.’ That’s no longer a problem with the 6-foot-2 Hackney and 6-foot-5 Diamant providing relief inside and giving Jaeschke an occasional break. Armed with productive secondary options for the first time in her career, Jaeschke and the Cats are off to their best conference start in a decade.

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