Women’s Basketball: Northwestern hopes to shore up defense against No. 13 Purdue

Kevin Trahan

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Of all the weeks Northwestern has played this season, perhaps none was as representative of how the year has been than last week. In that seven-day span, the Wildcats grabbed a dramatic victory against Illinois followed by a tough loss to Michigan and a blowout loss at Wisconsin (6-13, 2-5 Big Ten).

It was a roller-coaster week, one that followed the script of the ups and downs of this season.

“It was a crazy week, playing Monday night, then Thursday, then Sunday, ” coach Joe McKeown said. “It was a little different than what we’ve been doing.”

NU (12-8, 2-5 Big Ten) got to work this week, not only on its defense, which struggled mightily against Wisconsin, but also on finding more open looks on offense.

“After taking that loss, we tried to come back and really work hard in practice,” freshman guard Morgan Jones said. “First on executing on defense and just trying to get higher-percentage shots on the offensive end.”

Defensively, McKeown has tried to get his team to focus on stopping the other team’s two best scorers, which the Cats have failed to execute at times, particularly against Wisconsin. Jones said there is no way to practice that and it is just about focusing better in games.

“I don’t think there’s much to work on,” she said. “It’s just a mental thing to shut down one player and the rest will fall into place.”

More than anything, that week was about inconsistency. The Cats hit big shots and played strong defense against Illinois. They did neither against Michigan or Wisconsin. Even in the Illinois game, NU did not shoot particularly well, finishing at 33.3 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc. Against Wisconsin, defense was the problem, and the Cats worked to improve on that in practice this week.

“We focused hard on defense because that’s where we’ve been having some letdowns,” junior forward Kendall Hackney said. “We just have to get back to the fundamentals.”

McKeown said he knows his team is capable of playing well, so he encouraged them to focus on the future and not dwell on past mistakes. He said he hopes that a solid week of practice can lead to solid results against Purdue on Thursday, even though it did not do the same against Michigan or Wisconsin.

“I thought we had good practices last week, but obviously it didn’t translate into the Wisconsin game, so I think everybody’s attitude is good and we’ll be ready to play (Thursday) night,” he said. “We have to go forward; there’s no sense in looking back.”

Looking ahead, the Cats must improve if they want to make a postseason tournament, be it the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament. Hackney said the Big Ten season nearing its halfway point led to an increased focus in practice.

“I think we’re always fairly focused, but this week we had an acute sense of urgency,” she said. “The season is going by quickly. We need to just get some wins and play at the level we’re capable of playing at.”

However, McKeown said he and his team are more focused on their immediate task, taking on a Purdue team that is undefeated in the Big Ten and ranked No. 13 in the country.

“I’m not thinking about anything other than Purdue, and that’s the approach you have to have,” he said.