Women’s Basketball: Northwestern snags first round Big Ten win

Colin Becht

It probably was not the type of game Northwestern wanted to play, but the Wildcats will gladly accept an ugly win. NU downed Minnesota 53-44 in a turnover-riddled Big Ten Tournament first-round matchup on Thursday night.

While most people would assume a 21-turnover, 36-percent shooting percentage performance would lead to a loss, coach Joe McKeown said the outcome did not surprise him.

“When you coach a long time and you’ve been in a lot of tournaments, you realize you’re going to have bad stretches, bad halves,” McKeown said. “And sometimes it’s good to get that out of your system if you’re fortunate enough to win the basketball game.”

NU overcame its sloppy play by forcing an shoddier effort from the Golden Gophers. Minnesota hit just 25 percent from the floor and committed 17 turnovers that led to 16 NU points.

“We were rushing,” Minnesota’s senior guard China Antoine said. “It’s something we did ourselves. We were rushing and throwing sloppy passes and not taking the best shots.”

The win sends the Cats to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, where NU will meet the conference’s regular-season champion Michigan State.

With both sides struggling to draw anything other than iron on their shots Thursday night, the Cats took control in the post, led by senior center Amy Jaeschke. Jaeschke led all players with 10 boards to pace NU to a 43-37 rebounding advantage.

Beyond finding rebounds, Jaeschke contributed to the Gophers’ shooting woes by blocking and contesting inside shots. Minnesota forward Katie Loberg made just 1-of-12 from the floor, while fellow forward Jackie Voigt hit on 1-of-10 shots.

“Every single coach has told me at least 17 times not to leave my feet and not to go for any of (Loberg’s) fakes,” Jaeschke said. “They ingrained it in my head, and I tried to stay down as much as I could.”

Junior guard Allison Mocchi, sophomore forward Kendall Hackney and junior forward Brittany Orban all aided Jaeschke in the glass game, with 25 rebounds between the three.

Hackney was one of the few players to overcome her shooting slump, scoring a game-high 22 points. She made just six of her 19 shots but got herself to the line for 10 free throws, hitting nine of them.

“We rotated the ball well, and I was open,” Hackney said. “Coach always tells us to shoot, just keep shooting, even though I may have taken some bad shots.”

Jaeschke also stood out offensively in the otherwise defensive struggle, scoring 16 points. She and Antoine were the only two players to shoot over 50 percent on Thursday night.

NU led for nearly the entire game, other than one tie at 20-20 early in the second half. But the Gophers hung tight with the Cats throughout, cutting NU’s lead to a point with four and a half minutes to play.

“We knew our shots weren’t falling, but if we were just playing good defense, we can keep ourselves in the game,” Antoine said. “Eventually we thought our shots would fall.”

Unlike several times throughout the season in which NU crumbled late, the Cats played their finest ball in the last minutes of the game and overcame their earlier struggles. NU did not turn the ball over in that final four and a half minutes, and Jaeschke and Orban both had clutch three-point plays to clinch the victory.

“That’s one of the best finishes we had all year,” McKeown said. “Our team did a tremendous job of playing the last three minutes like a tournament team.”

Other than that final stretch, NU did little to help itself, taking forced shoots and throwing errant passes. Sophomore guard Tailor Jones played only 16 minutes but managed to turn the ball over eight times.

Antoine added difficulty to every NU pass by constantly keeping her hands in the passing lanes. The senior had five steals, several of which helped her amass 18 points.

“We didn’t do a very good job at defending Antoine,” McKeown said. “We let her loose.”

Still, other than Antoine, the Cats keyed in nicely on the Gophers’ primary scorers, holding Loberg, Voigt and junior guard Kiara Buford to a combined 12 points. Those three averaged 31.4 points per game during the regular season.

“It’s going to be tough to win when you don’t have a post game that’s scoring,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “If we would have had one more player step up and have a good night, I think we would have been able to pull this off.”

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