Women’s Basketball: Early momentum fuels Cats

Colin Becht

Coach Joe McKeown didn’t want to talk about history after Thursday’s 53-44 win over Minnesota, Northwestern’s first Big Ten Tournament victory in more than a decade. Nor did he want to talk about how unlikely the victory was given the Wildcats’ 21 turnovers.

“I want to talk about tomorrow,” McKeown said. “I don’t want to talk about last year. We’ve got new players, a new team.”

But senior center Amy Jaeschke was happy to discuss the significance of the moment.

“As a senior class, we talk a lot to the younger girls on the team about things we want to accomplish before we leave this program, and one of them was to win the first round of the Big Ten Tournament,” Jaeschke said. “We’d never done it before.”

Last year, NU came out flat in the Big Ten Tournament, falling behind early in its first-round contest against Michigan. By halftime, the Cats were down 38-16, and although they mounted a valiant rally in the second half, it was not enough: the Wolverines won 65-44.

This time, NU seized momentum as soon as it hit the court, jumping out to a 14-3 lead with 11:09 remaining in the first half. Although Minnesota would rally back to tie it several times, the Golden Gophers could never claim the lead.

“It was definitely a different feel before the game started,” Jaeschke said. “Everybody was really high energy, and that was the difference in the game. We came out ready to fight, and we were going to fight for 40 minutes. Even though, it got ugly at some points, we just had the energy and we had the drive to win the game.”

The Cats saved their best fight for last. After a media timeout was taken with 3:44 remaining and NU up by a point, the Cats closed with a powerful performance, notching seven straight points.

The Cats were buoyed by an emotional pair of layups. First, with NU holding onto a 49-42 lead, Jaeschke received the ball in the paint and went up strong, hitting the layup while drawing a foul from Minnesota forward Katie Loberg. After the play, Jaeschke chest bumped a couple of teammates, a wide grin present on her face.

“Really at that point, we were riding on emotions, wanting to win that game,” Jaeschke said. “That’s where the chest bump came in.”

After guard Kiara Buford came back with a jumper for the Golden Gophers, the Cats responded with a slick pass play when senior point guard Beth Marshall dished the ball to forward Brittany Orban as the junior streaked towards the hoop. Orban hit the layup and afterwards exchanged hugs with her teammates.

With those two plays pushing NU forward, the Cats were able to emerge victorious after a trying, emotional and, at times, sloppy performance.

“That’s the best, I have to go back in my head, but one of the best finishes we had all year,” McKeown said. “We showed a lot of poise in the last three minutes, and that’s what you have to do at this time of year.”

The Cats can’t afford to be satisfied ­- not when they have a matchup with the tournament’s top seed, No. 11 Michigan State, coming up less than 24 hours after their emotional win over Minnesota.

“We still have three more games left. That’s our goal,” Hackney said. “It’s a really big win for our program, but we have to keep going, keep fighting.”

While McKeown wants his team to focus on tomorrow’s matchup, he also wants his team to revel in the moment.

“Sometimes when you coach a long time, you try to keep an even keel at this time of year because you don’t want players to get too high or low,” McKeown said. “But right now, our team, I want them to be sky high. I want them to have fun, enjoy this and play really loose tomorrow night.”

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