Women’s Basketball: Roser sinks Illini with clutch free throw

Kevin Trahan

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Coming off three straight missed free throws in fewer than 20 seconds, freshman point guard Karly Roser had one more chance to put the game away, with Northwestern and Illinois tied at 58 and 2.8 seconds to play.

“I just knew I had to knock it down so (Illinois) wouldn’t get a chance to win or go to overtime,” she said. “It just had to be done.”

She got it done and Illinois’s (6-12, 0-5 Big Ten) late desperation shot fell short, sending the Wildcats (12-6, 2-3) to their first home conference victory in a 59-58 triumph.

For Roser, the final buzzer was a chance to take a sigh of relief.

“I didn’t want to take them in the first place,” she said. “I was just happy that I got (the final shot) in.”

The pressure-filled ending helped Roser build confidence, as she continues to improve in her freshman campaign. She finished with 12 points in 32 minutes, her fourth double-digit scoring effort in five Big Ten games.

“I’m really proud of Karly,” coach Joe McKeown said. “That’s a tough situation when you’ve struggled a little bit at the foul line going in.”

McKeown used a piece of history to comfort his young point guard in a timeout before that last shot.

“Coach even gave me hug, which was surprising,” Roser said.

McKeown said he took a page from a coaching legend who had to comfort one of his players in a tough situation.

“She had gotten shaken up little bit when she got fouled; she struggled a little bit, you could see,” he said. “I’m a basketball historian, so I was just thinking about John Thompson hugging his player at end of the (1982) National Championship game when Michael Jordan hit that shot (to beat Georgetown). I thought, I’m just going to give her a hug and let her settle down.”

Just as Roser fought through adversity at the end of the game, the rest of the Cats did the same, as NU was plagued with injuries and foul trouble.

Star junior forward Dannielle Diamant, who finished the game with 16 points, seven rebounds, one assist and five blocks, fouled out with more than four minutes left in the game, while senior guard Allison Mocchi fouled out with more than eight minutes left. Junior guard Tailor Jones was injured in the first half, as well.

The Cats were forced to reach to their bench, but McKeown was impressed with the response from all his players, especially down the stretch.

“Inesha (Hale) is coming off surgery, so she has struggled to come back, but she got to where she can play a little bit and gave us great spark, making two big free throws,” he said. “Meghan McKeown made some hustle plays… Alex Cohen played well, too.”

NU also got some late heroics from junior forward Kendall Hackney, who struggled for most of the game but hit a big three-pointer immediately after Diamant went to the bench. Hackney didn’t make a field goal throughout the entire first half, missing all seven of her attempts.

“Kendall Hackney had a tough night, but made a big, big shot,” McKeown said.

Ultimately, McKeown was just happy his team was able to handle the adversity that has built up this season and made big plays down the stretch to pull out the win.

“We’ve handled (injuries and foul trouble) about as well as you can, as far as people just sucking it up, making plays and just toughing things out,” he said.