Women’s Basketball: NU to host Alabama in second round of WNIT

Jonah L. Rosenblum

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

After Northwestern cruised to an 89-63 postseason victory over Creighton, Wildcats head coach Joe McKeown suggested that the men’s basketball team may have given his squad an assist the night before.

“Our men having a game here last night really created an exciting basketball atmosphere around here and our players fed off that,” McKeown said after his team’s win over the Bluejays. “When they won last night, our team’s competitive too. They’re like ‘hey, we want to play too.’ I really think Coach (Bill) Carmody and what they did last night helped us.”

McKeown’s crew is all alone in Evanston now, as the men’s basketball team travels the country in search of an NIT title.

On the other hand, the women’s basketball team will continue its quest for a WNIT title at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where NU (19-13, 6-10 Big Ten) will host Alabama (17-14, 5-11 SEC) Sunday afternoon in the second round of the tournament.

The Cats are grateful to be home, especially after the odyssey they endured last season. After defeating Duquesne in the opening round of the WNIT last year, NU had to travel to Olean, N.Y., to play St. Bonaventure and Ann Arbor, Mich., to play Michigan.

“What we went through last year in the WNIT, it just gave our players a sense of perseverance, which they hadn’t had here,” McKeown said. “If you win, you have another game. You have got to keep winning, We had to go on the road to St. Bonaventure and we won there. A lot of teams would have crumbled. It’s a tough place to play.”

St. Bonaventure is more than a tough place to play; it’s a tough place to get to. Located an hour and a half south of Buffalo, Olean is a city in the middle of nowhere. Since there are no nonstop flights from Chicago to Olean, the Cats had to take a small jet into what was essentially a clearing, according to McKeown, from which they embarked on a lengthy bus ride to Olean.

This time around, the Cats will not have to worry about bus rides and small jets. Instead, they will play at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where they are 14-4 this season.

If they can pick up a 15th home win, they will face either Auburn or Toledo in the Round of 16. The location of that game is to be determined, due to the idiosyncrasies of the WNIT.

Unlike the NIT where all the match ups are laid out in an organized bracket and home court is determined by seeding, the WNIT layout is determined as the tournament goes along, so it’s unclear whether the Round of 16 match would be at Welsh-Ryan Arena or elsewhere.

Regardless of where NU plays, however, sophomore forward Kendall Hackney said her team will be more prepared after last season’s journey.

“Last year we didn’t really realize how uncertain the WNIT was,” Hackney said. “You win that night and then you don’t know where you’re going to play next until the WNIT committee decides where they want to place you. It was a lot of weird feelings through the whole tournament but I think this year we’re really prepared for it and we’re just going to take whatever they give us.”

The only thing that is certain is that the WNIT has given the Cats a home match up with a Crimson Tide team that lost nine straight games at one point this season, but ended with five wins in their last seven games.

NU and Alabama haven’t had many mutual opponents this season, since the two teams operate in distinct geographic areas, but both have played LSU. The Cats beat the Lady Tigers 71-62 while the Crimson Tide were the victims of two LSU routs.

Alabama could cause NU fits with its pressure defense, however. The Crimson Tide forced nearly 23 turnovers a game this season, and the Cats have struggled to handle the ball at times, a potentially deadly combination.

Of course, the Crimson Tide have their own issues to work through. Alabama has given up 66.5 points per game this season, worst in the SEC. On offense, the Crimson Tide hit just 37 percent of their shots, which puts them 11th out of 12 teams. And when it comes to the glass, Alabama has the worst rebounding margin of any SEC team.

Sunday’s contest marks the Cats first match up with the Crimson Tide since the 1985-1986 season, but McKeown said he looks forward to seeing new faces.

“The postseason is a reward for having a good season,” McKeown said. “Whether it’s the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT, you get excited about playing people from different conferences you haven’t seen before.”

Of course, just having fun isn’t enough for many of NU’s players.

“It’s more of a determination to finish the year out with a win,” Jaeschke said. “It’s really about getting six wins in a row.”

The Cats have recorded one of those wins. Just five more to go.