Women’s Basketball: Bentley, No. 18 Penn State bombard Northwestern early to 77-63 win

Kevin Trahan

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In the practices leading up to Sunday’s game against No. 18 Penn State, coach Joe McKeown had hoped to enlist the help of a Chicago-area superstar to prepare for star Nittany Lions guard Alex Bentley. Unfortunately for McKeown, that star was in Boston preparing for a game against the Celtics.

“It’s hard to recreate somebody like Alex Bentley,” he said. “The only person in Chicago who can probably do that is Derrick Rose. He’s got a game today so I couldn’t get him to practice.”

Nobody from Northwestern (13-12, 3-9 Big Ten) was able to adequately prepare the Wildcats for Bentley, as they allowed her to reach 18 points in Penn State’s 77-63 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

NU wasn’t able to defend any of the Nittany Lions (20-5, 10-3) early on Sunday, as the Cats fell into a 10-point hole early in the first half and a 41-25 deficit at halftime. They could never recover, despite fighting hard down the stretch.

“They came out a little hot, definitely,” said freshman guard Morgan Jones, who led NU with 20 points. “Toward the end of the second half I felt like they weren’t hitting as (many shots) but they were definitely going on the offensive boards, which killed us a little bit.”

Penn State had a major height advantage inside due to the absence of NU junior forward Dannielle Diamant, who was injured in the Cats’ last game against Michigan State and was unable to play Sunday.

“We’re just so limited at times in what we can do offensively (without Diamant),” McKeown said. “We got down at times late in the shot clock and ended up forcing some things. Without Dannielle to distribute those shots, I don’t know what else I can tell you.”

NU struggled with other injuries, as freshman point guard Karly Roser was unable to play for the final 16 minutes of the second half and senior guard Allison Mocchi was injured on the first play of the game.

“If someone has a four-leaf clover or rosary beads, I’ll take them,” McKeown said, regarding the injuries.

With so many players out, NU was forced to play with an inexperienced lineup, which gave freshman forward Alex Cohen a chance to gain experience. Cohen scored 8 points in 14 minutes against the Nittany Lions, four times her average points per game and double her typical minutes played.

“Alex did a lot of good things for us tonight,” McKeown said. “She had a really good week of practice this past week. She shows the potential, obviously.”

Even though NU played a different lineup, it still struggled with defense, the same thing that had hurt the Cats earlier in the season. McKeown said he hopes his team can weather the injuries and get back on track defensively at Nebraska on Thursday.

“If we can play better defense than we did tonight, I think we’ll have much better opportunities,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing for us, is to play better defense.”

However, given the circumstances, McKeown found a silver lining in his team’s ability to keep the game relatively in reach for much of the second half. With so much adversity, he said he is happy with moral victories.

“We played very well the first 15 minutes of the second half, just trying to reenergize us,” he said. “We outscored them in the second half, so right now we’ll take small things to build on like that.”