Women’s Basketball: Northwestern hopes to separate themselves in Big Ten standings

Steven Montero

The Wildcats go tooth to claw with the Wolverines on Thursday as each team tries to break out of the pack in the third week of Big Ten play.

Both Northwestern (12-6, 2-3 Big Ten) and Michigan (14-4, 3-2) are coming off home victories, with second-half blasts over Illinois and Minnesota, respectively.

The Cats’ narrow one-point margin over the Fighting Illini, which NU picked up with a single free throw from freshman guard Karly Roser, gave the inconsistent Cats momentum, but the Wolverines have a significant win this season.

Michigan handed No. 10 Ohio State its first and only defeat of the year nearly two weeks ago on the Wolverines’ home court.

Although the Cats kept up with the Buckeyes in Columbus last week, and held a 47-43 lead several minutes into the second half, Ohio State went on a 10-0 run to knock the air out of NU.

“I’m not one that looks at comparative scores that much,” coach Joe McKeown said. “That can be a dangerous hobby. They’re playing well and they’re a really balanced team and that’s what we’ve got to focus on more than anything else.”

McKeown said NU’s biggest challenge is that everyone on Michigan’s team can score. He said even players off its bench pose a threat.

“They’ll spread you out, shoot threes, open up the floor a lot,” he said. “Then defensively they’re just real solid. They’re aggressive. So we’ve got to be able to play both ends.”

The Wolverines’ top scorers are guard Courtney Boylan and forward Rachel Sheffer. Each averages 13 points per game this season.

Although NU junior forward Kendall Hackney, at 16.3 points per game, has a better scoring average than both Boylan and Sheffer, her performances have lacked their usual strength. Against Illinois, Hackney did not connect from the floor until the second half.

“Being a shooter and a scorer on the team, I get frustrated, but I don’t let it get me down or to the point where I feel like I can’t do anything anymore,” she said. “I want to continue to encourage my teammates, continue to let them encourage me because they know I can shoot. I know I can shoot. I’ve been blessed with that ability so I didn’t want to give up and I didn’t.”

Hackney crept back in the second half with two important baskets from behind the arc, which propped up NU’s lead. She said a player is “only as good as the last shot.”

She added that one focus of the Michigan matchup should be out-rebounding the Wolverines and reducing turnovers. This posed a major problem for the Cats against the Buckeyes, allowing Ohio State to rack up 30 points off NU turnovers.

Senior guard Allison Mocchi said what the Cats learned from their trip to Columbus and the last three games in general is how to work together as a team.

“When games come down to the wire, we have to grind it down all the way to the end,” Mocchi said. “We’re not going to win the game in one possession. We’re not going to win in the first half. It’s going to be 40 minutes of tough, defensive executing on offense. That’s what we’re learning to do, is to play a full 40 minutes and not just give it the 30 or 35 (minute effort).”

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