Rebels routed: Cats easily dispose of host UNLV to kick off Duel in the Desert

Chris Johnson

Four players reached double figures for Northwestern in its 79-49 rout of UNLV at Cox Pavilion on Sunday.

With legendary former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian – grandfather of NU junior forward Danielle Diamant – in the crowd, the Wildcats did not disappoint.

“It was an emotional game tonight, with Danielle’s family here,” coach Joe McKeown said. “But we played hard. We beat a tough team on their home court.”

Freshman Morgan Jones scored seven of her 18 points within the first six minutes, enabling NU to jump out to an 11-4 advantage. But the Rebels would claw back, cutting the Cats’ lead to one with just more than eight minutes remaining in the opening period.

Sparked by a barrage of threes from Hackney, Jones and Diamant, NU dominated the rest of the first half. While the Cats shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, the Rebels were held to just 23 percent from the field and failed to record a three-point field goal in the opening stanza. NU headed to the locker room with a comfortable 38-22 lead.

The Rebels fought hard early in the second half, narrowing the Cats’ lead to 10 at the 13-minute mark. But NU took over from there, outscoring UNLV 22-4 over the next eight minutes to put the game out of reach.

Hackney said the win marked the Cats’ best defensive performance of the season.

“We were really able to shut them down tonight,” Hackney said. “We were focusing on their shooters and their rotations. It was really great to see us put together a complete performance on that end of the floor.”

Hackney’s 22-point performance marked her fourth consecutive game with 20 or more points. The 2010-2011 All-Big Ten honorable mention selection now ranks fifth in the conference in scoring with 17.2 points per game.

“Our team offense as a whole has been much better lately,” Hackney said. “We’re sharing the ball and everybody’s working well together. With the way my teammates are setting me up, I’m getting a lot of great looks.”

One of the beneficiaries of the improved team offense is Alex Cohen, who recorded a career-high 11 points on Sunday. With senior forward Brittany Orban out indefinitely, the freshman said that she is ready to step up in her place.

“I’m definitely ready to do more,” Cohen said. “Coach McKeown has given me a lot of confidence recently. Him and my other coaches have made sure that I’m prepared to help fill her role.”

Sunday’s win came in the first of three games for the Cats in the Duel in the Desert Tournament, hosted by UNLV. NU will play Big 12 foe Kansas State on Monday before taking on North Dakota State on Tuesday.

After its three-game set in Las Vegas, NU will face Toledo on Dec. 27 before commencing with its Big Ten schedule at Iowa three days later. Since their loss against DePaul on Nov. 27, the Cats have won five straight to improve to 9-1.

“We played really well tonight,” McKeown said. “It just sets you up for the conference schedule. But I hope that we’re not peaking now. I want to be at our best in February and March.”

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