Women’s Basketball: Wildcats squeak by Illinois 80-79

Colin Becht

With time expiring and Northwestern trailing by one, senior center Amy Jaeschke spun, faded away from the hoop and converted a miracle: The Wildcats defeated Illinois 80-79 as Jaeschke banked in a jumper with 1.4 seconds left.

Guard Lydia McCully’s free throws gave the Fighting Illini a one-point lead with 27 seconds left. After NU failed to create anything and senior guard Meshia Reed nearly turned the ball over with time running out, Jaeschke received the ball in the post and bounced the shot high off the glass and in while falling away from the hoop.

Coach Joe McKeown joked that the play went exactly as he drew it up.

“Fall down, dribble off your foot, fall away,” McKeown said. “We work on it every day.”

The game-winning shot capped a wild game that saw 15 lead changes, 11 ties and a combined 54.7 shooting percentage.

Jaeschke led NU with 22 points, but got significant aid from senior guard Beth Marshall and sophomore forward Kendall Hackney who contributed 16 and 13 points, respectively. Marshall was also key in distributing the ball offensively, picking up eight assists, seven of them in the first half.

“We did a better job of moving the basketball,” McKeown said. “We got the ball in better spots.”

Jaeschke led the Cats with seven rebounds, each of them hard-fought in what was a very physical post game.

“It’s almost like I can say I play wrestling instead of basketball nowadays,” Jaeschke said. “It just feels like a lot of teams are being very physical down low with our team, but we’ve just got to stay strong and fight through those fouls.”

Despite NU’s hot shooting – the Cats shot 58.3 percent from behind the arc – the Illini kept pace thanks to equal accuracy. Forward Lana Rukavina spurred the Illinois offense with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

“(Rukavina) just lit us up,” Marshall said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of taking her out after she got hot.”

Rukavina was one of four Illinois players in double figures, with Karisma Penn scoring 19, Adrienne GodBold 15, and McCully 10.

With both teams pushing the ball up the floor, the game developed a rapid pace, combining a flurry of layups, errant passes and steals. NU turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 23 Illinois points.

“We have to look before we pass,” Marshall said. “We didn’t do that a few times tonight, and they made us pay for it.”

The Cats seemed to have the game under control with a four-point lead and possession of the ball with less than three minutes to play, but Illinois responded by forcing a turnover from Jaeschke that led to a three from GodBold.

Unlike recent games in which NU fell away late, the Cats responded with a clutch three-point play from Hackney.

“We talked to each other, and just said ‘This is a heart game,'” Marshall said. “One of our goals for this season is if we’re up with four minutes to go, to win.”

Still, with the game on the line, it was the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer that came to the Cats’ rescue and ended their four-game losing streak.

“When you’ve got an All-American, sometimes you’ve just got to make a shot, just bail somebody out,” McKeown said. “That’s what she did tonight.”

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