Women’s Basketball: Northwestern knocked out of Big Ten Tournament early by Michigan

Danny Daly

Legendary former North Carolina coach Dean Smith used to talk about how hard it is to beat the same team three times in one season. After the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Wildcats understand why.

Despite beating Michigan twice during the regular season, Northwestern fell behind early and never recovered, trailing by double digits for the last 29 minutes of a 67-54 loss. The Cats dropped their opening game in the conference tournament for the 10th consecutive year, a disappointing result considering the other decade-long skids they snapped during their first winning season since 1996-97.

“We just got off to such a bad start,” coach Joe McKeown said. “Michigan took advantage of that.”

The Wolverines limited junior point guard Beth Marshall and sophomore forward Brittany Orban, two of the Cats’ best secondary scoring threats, to six points combined. They also took away the Cats’ perimeter production, as NU shot 6-of-23 from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Michigan featured a balanced attack, with five players in double figures. Reserve point guard Courtney Boylan led the Wolverines with 14 points, and the other four each had at least five rebounds as well.

“We’ve got an offense that relies on all five people being able to score,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “They kept telling me, ‘They’re face guarding (sophomore forward) Carmen (Reynolds), they’re face guarding Carmen.’ Well, let them face guard Carmen. There are four other guys that have to be able to produce. We don’t have any All-Conference players. We’ve got to rely on teamwork.”

NU was 6-of-29 from the field in the first half of its final regular season game, and it didn’t fare much better on Thursday. The Cats (16-14) shot 25 percent before intermission and were held scoreless for more than four minutes to start the game.

That allowed the Wolverines (17-12) to jump out to an 8-0 lead. Though NU trimmed the deficit in half, Michigan bounced back by scoring 12 straight points and later reeled off a 13-2 run to close the half with a 22-point edge.

“We let them have a lot of second-chance opportunities, and they’re very good at crashing the boards,” freshman forward Kendall Hackney said. “We didn’t do a great job of boxing out. It was really frustrating, but we couldn’t let it kill us.”

Michigan went into the locker room with a 25-11 advantage on the glass, including eight offensive rebounds that led to 12 points. It also benefited from making multiple baskets with the shot clock winding down, including a banked-in 3-pointer by guard Veronica Hicks that capped off the 12-0 run.

The beginning of the second half was more of the same, as the Wolverines scored the first two buckets to seize a 42-16 lead, their largest of the game. Then the Cats came roaring back to cut the margin to 10.

“We came back with a lot of intensity,” McKeown said. “We made it a great game for a while. We just couldn’t dig out of that (halftime hole).”

NU had chances to give Michigan a scare. The best opportunity came with six minutes to play, when Marshall nailed a 3-pointer in the corner that would have pulled the Cats within nine. But senior Kristin Cartwright was called for an offensive foul, negating the play.

A major reason Michigan prevented NU from climbing closer was its production at the free throw line. After making only 60 percent of their foul shots in their first two losses to the Cats, the Wolverines were 15-of-19 after intermission.

“Joe was telling them to foul, and I figured, ‘Oh, boy, here we go-if we’re not careful, they’ll knock it out of our hands,'” Borseth said. “Free throws are key: If you make them, you can maintain your lead. If you don’t, you let the other team back in. Today we made them.”

While Michigan moves on to face Michigan State in the quarterfinals, NU hopes to receive a bid to the WNIT. Considering the Cats’ 7-23 record last season and lack of success over the past 10 years, that accomplishment would signify the program’s progress.

“When you look at the turnaround we’ve had from the last couple of years, these guys deserve a lot of credit,” McKeown said. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play in the postseason. I feel like these guys deserve that opportunity.”

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