Women’s Basketball: No. 23 DePaul hands Northwestern its first loss

Kevin Trahan

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Defense has been the focal point for Northwestern coach Joe McKeown since the start of the season.

The Wildcats let their coach down Sunday, as they struggled to defend the perimeter in an 88-72 loss to No. 23 DePaul.

The Blue Demons shot 48 percent from beyond the arc – hitting 12 three-pointers – and pulled away late to hand the Cats their first loss of the season. Keisha Hampton finished with a career-high 32 points and Anna Martin added 21 more, including four three-pointers.

“We had breakdowns at the wrong time and DePaul took advantage of it,” McKeown said. ” Defensively, we have to be a lot better than that and I think we will. We worked on (perimeter defense), practiced it, but we weren’t able to get there tonight. When we did, they made tough shots.”

The Cats rarely led Sunday, but were able to tie the game on a number of occasions and kept the deficit within eight for most of the game. However, every time NU threatened, DePaul would pull away with a couple quick threes. The Blue Demons finally pulled away for good in the last two minutes.

“It seemed like every time we made a run, we left someone open at the wrong time,” McKeown said.

NU tried to exploit its size advantage down low, as junior forward Dannielle Diamant led the team with 19 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Foul trouble limited her in the second half.

“They’re a smaller team than we are so I knew I kind of had more of an advantage underneath,” Diamant said. “I think the flow of the game wasn’t going toward me (in the second half) and then I didn’t really make shots I needed to when I did have the ball.”

McKeown said that having to sit Diamant hurt the Cats down the stretch.

“It hurt us that we had to sit Dannielle because she played very well in the first half,” he said.

While her second-half struggles on offense were a contributing factor, Diamant said that perimeter defense was the main factor in the Cats’ loss.

“They’re a great three-point shooting team, so that kind of exposed some of our weaknesses right there,” she said.

NU’s defensive performance marked a complete turnaround from last Tuesday’s game against No. 20 Louisiana State, when the Cats held the Tigers to just 44 points. DePaul had 41 in the first half Sunday.

McKeown said that NU cannot be considered an elite team until it puts a stop to such inconsistent play.

“More than anything else, we had mental breakdowns at the wrong time, leaving people open,” he said. “If we aspire to be a really good basketball team, we can’t do that.”

Despite the loss and defensive struggles, McKeown found some positives in his team’s effort.

“I’m excited for us,” he said. “We did a lot of good things and we’ll focus on that.”

Those improvements will have to come quickly, as the Cats face another tough test at Welsh-Ryan Arena, as they host North Carolina State on Wednesday night. That game is followed by a road trip to take on Missouri in the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge.

That makes for a tough four-game stretch, but one that McKeown said will help his team get ready for Big Ten play.

“(DePaul is) one of the better teams in the country and I thought the same thing about LSU when we beat them earlier this week,” he said. “When you play that type of schedule – North Carolina State and Missouri are coming up so it doesn’t get any easier – that helps in the Big Ten.”