Women’s Basketball: Northwestern sinks Michigan, sweeps series

Danny Daly

After Beth Marshall missed two free throws at the end of Sunday’s win over Wisconsin that prevented Northwestern from sealing the victory, she was faced with the same situation Thursday. With 17 seconds left and the Wildcats leading by one, she didn’t leave anything up to chance.

“In shoot-around and in practice, I’ve been staying after and trying to shoot more free throws to hit my confidence and find my rhythm,” the junior point guard said. “I wasn’t going to miss them. I was focused.”

Marshall’s two buckets and subsequent block on the next defensive possession secured NU’s 64-60 victory over Michigan at Welsh-Ryan Arena, giving the Cats their first winning streak since late December.

NU (14-9, 5-7 Big Ten) completed a season sweep of a Big Ten opponent for the first time in more than a decade, having also beaten Michigan 63-59 on the road six weeks ago. Dating back to that game in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Cats’ last four wins have been by a combined 15 points.

The Wolverines (13-9, 5-7) jumped ahead early, as junior guard Veronica Hicks connected from long range for the first points of the game and freshman Jenny Ryan scored a transition layup a few seconds later.

Even though NU battled back to briefly take the lead, Michigan was in control, repeatedly finding openings on the perimeter. Coach Joe McKeown called a timeout after the Wolverines sank another uncontested 3-pointer at the top of the key just past the midway point. The Cats responded with an 18-4 run to go up by 10, the largest lead by either side for the game. But Michigan climbed back by halftime, cutting the deficit to 34-29.

NU’s saving grace was the full-court press, which forced nine first-half turnovers.

“Every huddle we had and every timeout, we focused on defense,” said Marshall, who tallied 11 points, six assists and three steals. “Our defensive lapses caused us to not break out and have a bigger lead.”

The same problem hindered NU in the second half. Leading by nine just more than three minutes after intermission, the Cats weren’t able to extend their edge any further.

Part of the reason NU couldn’t run away from Michigan was its inability to establish leading scorer Amy Jaeschke inside. The junior center made one of her first nine shots, though she heated up late to help the Cats close out the win.

“I was struggling early on to hit the shots so I just let the game come to me instead of trying to force it,” she said. “That just really helped me out.”

With 8:19 to go, the Wolverines took their first lead of the half on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds. The teams traded baskets after that, until Hicks’ trey gave Michigan a 60-59 advantage with less than two minutes left. Hicks had scored seven straight points for the Wolverines, who would not score again.

“We never slowed down Hicks very well,” McKeown said. “She just seemed to get to the rim all night. It felt like she was Dwyane Wade. It’s hard to keep her in front of you-she’s just quick and gets in seams.”

A jumper by Jaeschke and Marshall’s free throws-which came after she was fouled driving to the hoop with one second on the shot clock-provided the Cats with a cushion, and freshman forward Kendall Hackney capped off her game-high 18 points by sinking a free throw in the final seconds. Riding the momentum of two key victories, NU has a week to rest before travelling to last-place Illinois next Thursday.[email protected]