Women’s Basketball: Defense steps up to prevent repeat of previous loss

Danny Daly

Too many times this season, Northwestern has built up a sizeable second-half lead yet failed to put the game away-including earlier this year against Iowa, Sunday afternoon’s opponent. In the rematch, the Wildcats made sure history didn’t repeat itself.

While NU struggled to protect its late edge, it came up with crucial stops to hang on for a 72-66 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“Our defense tonight was phenomenal,” freshman forward Kendall Hackney said. “We were rotating, we were talking the entire time, and we knew where the shooters were. That was really effective. That helps to stop them and make them uncomfortable out of what they’re not used to doing.”

It’s ironic NU halted Iowa’s hot streak, since the Cats’ second-half collapse a month ago helped spark the Hawkeyes’ rise.

When NU (16-11, 7-9 Big Ten) traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, the two teams were going in opposite directions. The Hawkeyes (15-12, 8-8) were just starting their surge from the bottom of the Big Ten, winning their second straight conference game en route to a stretch of seven victories in eight contests. Meanwhile the Cats were mired in a slump when they lost at Iowa, eventually suffering seven defeats in eight games.

“They had great momentum coming in,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They play with great confidence when you watch them on film.”

The Cats gave one of their most balanced efforts of the season offensively, with junior center Amy Jasechke scoring 27 points and the team shooting 9-of-15 from beyond the arc. Junior point guard Beth Marshall followed up her career-best performance in Thursday’s win over Indiana by connecting on three 3-pointers and sinking all six of her free throws in the final three minutes.

Part of the reason the Cats got off to a commanding start was their ability to get the ball to Jaeschke down low.

“It’s great when we can attack inside early,” Jaeschke said. “It opens things for the outside, and we can do the same thing and then have it go back inside.”

Though NU led by as many as eight points, Iowa whittled the deficit down to 30-28 by halftime and scored the first basket after intermission.

But the Cats scored the next four points to give themselves a cushion. Every time Iowa cut NU’s lead to one or two points in the second half, the Cats responded by scoring immediately to prevent the Hawkeyes from going ahead.

The Hawkeyes’ pair of experienced guards, sophomore Kamille Wahlin and junior Kachine Alexander, didn’t make it easy. While Wahlin presented an outside threat and topped Iowa with 20 points, the 5-foot-9 Alexander made most of her plays in the paint, pulling down 10 rebounds and driving multiple times for layups.

“It’s just hard to keep (Alexander) from getting where she wants to go,” McKeown said. “You just can’t breathe. You can’t ever give them an inch because they might be the best offensive team in our league.”

NU’s bench provided McKeown’s squad with a much-needed boost in the second half. After scoring no points before intermission, junior guard Meshia Reed and freshman center Dannielle Diamant combined to shoot 4-of-4 from the field in the final period. Diamant’s long trey with less than seven minutes left put the Cats up 59-51, their largest lead of the second half. They extended it to double digits with five minutes to go.

Then the Hawkeyes went on their run, pressing the Cats full-court and fighting back to trail 66-64. But Iowa scored only once more and failed to take advantage of the five offensive rebounds it grabbed the rest of the way. Jaeschke and Marshall knocked their foul shots down in the last two minutes to close out NU’s first win over Iowa since 2000. The Cats are eligible to receive an NIT berth, which would be their first postseason appearance in 13 years.[email protected]