Women’s Basketball: Northwestern seeks first win of ‘second season’ versus Minnesota

Kevin Trahan

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Northwestern coach Joe McKeown likes to divide the college basketball season into three sub-seasons – non-conference, conference and postseason play. With the first sub-season completed and the second just starting, McKeown has been pleased with a 10-4 start despite dropping its first Big Ten game.

“To go 10-3 non-conference, college basketball is really three seasons, and the first season we thought we did a great job,” he said after non-conference season ended. “10-3 with adversity and a lot of injuries, it’s tough.”

Adversity will likely continue to be the theme for this beat-up team throughout the season, as injuries and a subsequent lack of depth have plagued the Wildcats so far. Senior forward Brittany Orban suffered a torn ACL against North Carolina State on Nov. 30. Her current status is “out indefinitely.”

Forward Dannielle Diamant is currently nursing a sprained ankle that she suffered in the Cats’ 75-56 loss to Toledo on Dec. 27. She left that game very early and could not return, leaving NU to struggle without one of its top forwards. Diamant returned for the conference opener against Iowa on Dec. 30 – an 86-55 loss – but was largely ineffective, playing only 20 minutes. The status of her recovery for Thursday’s game against Minnesota is still unclear.

The Cats have struggled to overcome the injuries of their post players and have been forced to give more playing time to a number of bench players. Before Orban’s injury – including the game against North Carolina State in which she was injured – NU was 5-1, including a big win at Louisiana State. Since then, the Cats are 5-3. They’re 0-2 in the two games since Diamant’s injury.

There is likely a lot more adversity still to come, with Orban unavailable and a daunting Big Ten slate ahead. Momentum is clearly not on their side – they’re 1-3 in their last four games – but the Cats have responded to adversity before, rebounding from a loss to DePaul with a blowout win against North Carolina State and coming from behind in road wins against Louisiana State and Missouri.

The Cats certainly have the talent in both the frontcourt and backcourt to get back on a winning track with a strong mix of youth and experience.

NU starts two freshmen – guard Morgan Jones and point guard Karly Roser. Both have been instrumental in a number of the team’s wins – Roser had double-doubles against Western Kentucky and North Carolina State, while Jones hit two game-winning free throws against Louisiana State. Together they have received four Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards – three for Jones and one for Roser.

Jones was an All-American coming out of high school, ranking as the No. 9 player in the country, according to ESPN. Roser was a much less-heralded recruit, but competed for Canada’s U-17 team.

“If you’re a head coach who has been around as long as I have,” McKeown said following the North Carolina State win, “when you sign high school All-Americans, the college game is so different than what they see in high school, but I think (Jones and Roser) are mature beyond their years.”

To contrast their young backcourt – save for Allison Mocchi, a starting senior guard – the Cats have a lot of experience in their frontcourt, starting Diamant and fellow junior Kendall Hackney.

That rare combination of youth and experience has been effective for NU, but injuries have caused lineups to shift.

Now, facing adversity, NU’s stars need to step up during conference play if they want a chance to play in March – the third season, as McKeown likes to call it.

Thursday’s game against Minnesota offers an opportunity to get back on a winning track.