Women’s basketball: Jaeschke, Cats aim to upset stacked Ohio State at home

Colin Becht

In terms of statistics, Northwestern and No. 24 Ohio State look nearly identical on paper.

The Buckeyes (10-5, 1-2) rank second in the Big Ten with a 74.7 points per game average, and the Wildcats (13-4, 2-2) are close behind with 72.4 points per game. Ohio State ranks seventh in defensive points per game, while NU is .3 points behind. The teams shoot similar free throw and field goal percentages.

“Personnel-wise and the way (Ohio State) is composed, it’s very similar to how our team is,” senior center Amy Jaeschke said.

Those similarities alone illustrate the strides NU has made over the past two years. The Cats now rival the Buckeyes, a team that has beaten them 19 straight times.

“It would be another really big win for us if we beat Ohio State just because our senior class has never beaten them,” Jaeschke said. “But also because they’re a ranked team. They historically have been one of the more dominant programs in our conference.”

For the Cats, a win in Thursday’s contest with the Buckeyes would prove that NU is now a serious contender in the conference.

“It shows the Big Ten that this is where we’re at,” Jaeschke said. “That we’ve changed the program around and now we’re starting to compete with everyone.”

Beyond what is at stake for NU as a team, Jaeschke has a little extra riding on the game: the chance to validate herself as the premier post player in the Big Ten. Jaeschke will go head-to-head with center Jantel Lavender, the Big Ten’s leader in points and rebounds.

“This is the best matchup in the Big Ten for Amy, and she’s had a great season,” senior guard Beth Marshall said. “A victory over Ohio State would mean a lot for her.”

While Lavender leads the Big Ten with 23.8 points per game and 11.7 rebounds, Jaeschke is not far behind, ranking second in the conference in points and fourth in rebounds.

“They do have similar stats, but I think they’re two very completely different post players,” Marshall said. “Amy has some of the best footwork I’ve ever seen in a post player and she has a lot of finesse for being 6-foot-5-inches, which is very uncommon. I always say that Amy’s a rare jewel and we’re very lucky to have her.”

Jaeschke said she relishes the opportunity to go against her toughest challenge in the conference.

“She’ll obviously be a big matchup for me,” Jaeschke said. “Those are the kind of games you work for all summer, the games where you’re really going to be tested.”

Given that both players are seniors, Jaeschke has had plenty of time to scout her opponent.

“She favors her right hand, so defensively I need to take the scouting report and make sure she doesn’t get a lot of shots with her right hand,” Jaeschke said. “And then also boxing her out, making sure she doesn’t get those second-chance points.”

Coach Joe McKeown said the matchup won’t be exclusively decided by the battle between Lavender and Jaeschke.

“You have two of the best players in the country, Jantel Lavender and Amy Jaeschke,” McKeown said. “But when you’re basically a center on a team, and not a guard, Jantel and Amy still are very reliant on their teammates to get the ball, to get shots.”

NU enters Thursday’s matchup coming off an emotional 69-66 overtime win over Illinois, the Cats’ first victory over the Fighting Illini since 1999. While a momentous win such as that could set a team up for a let-down, Marshall said having another crucial game right after has helped the Cats stay focused.

“Because of them being Ohio State and having the personnel that they do, it’s very easy for our team to go in with a good attitude and be enthusiastic,” Marshall said. “We’re very passionate about beating them.”

To do that, NU will have to overcome its Big Ten-worst three-point defense percentage. Luckily for the Cats, the Buckeyes rank last in the conference in shots from outside the arc.

“That’s a deceiving stat,” McKeown said. “They have ammunition to maybe be the best three-point shooting team in the league too, at times. So I kind of take that stat with a grain of salt.”

Because of that, NU won’t surrender any free looks from outside.

“We also know that teams have a tendency to shoot lights-out when they come here,” Marshall said. “We’re going to play straight-up defense, maybe not faceguard anyone or play them outside the men’s three-point line, but we know that we have to contest every shot.”

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