Women’s Basketball: Wildcats ‘come together,’ stun No. 16 Cornhuskers

Kevin Trahan

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All season, Northwestern had shown its potential in spurts, struggling with inconsistency throughout its Big Ten slate. Thursday night in Lincoln, the Wildcats finally put everything together, knocking off No. 16 Nebraska, 63-51.

“We had bits and pieces come together in different games,” junior forward Kendall Hackney said. “Tonight we just came together. The offense was flowing well, and the defense was working hard. For us to win on the road, especially, was very key.”

Thursday’s game was everything that Sunday’s loss to No. 18 Penn State was not, as the Cats played extremely well defensively, a problem that has plagued them all year. NU held the Cornhuskers to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor and just 17.9 percent from beyond the arc. Penn State shot 46.8 percent against the Wildcats on Sunday.

“I thought defensively we did everything,” coach Joe McKeown said. “I thought we contested their best player and made them work.”

McKeown also said he was impressed with the ability of his team to bounce back after a loss and play tough when the Cats got down against Nebraska.

“We wouldn’t allow (the team) to get down, and I think that’s really important,” he said. “It was hard-fought; we really needed this. I thought we had great poise.”

Hackney said she was frustrated with how the defense had played earlier in the season, but was impressed with Thursday’s performance.

“We can score; we just let teams score on defense,” she said. “That’s what we worked on and I think we did a great job. It’s a confidence booster, for sure. We’re really hoping to continue to do this.”

In addition to the confidence boost, NU received a tangible boost inside with the return of junior forward Dannielle Diamant, who led the Cats with 19 points and tied for the team lead with 8 rebounds. She was hurt last week against Michigan State and did not play against Penn State. McKeown said NU had missed her presence.

“She takes so much pressure off Kendall and (freshman guard) Morgan (Jones) and gives us that inside-out game,” he said. “I was really proud.”

Hackney and Jones both had solid games in support of Diamant. Hackney finished with 17 points in only 26 minutes, while Jones had just 6 points, but added 8 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Diamant attributed NU’s success to a team effort, not just her own stats.

“We did a good job of playing together,” she said, “playing like we know how.”

She said this win was important in that it raises the Cats’ confidence going forward, especially after solid efforts in games in which they still fell short.

“I don’t know about the biggest win (overall), but timing-wise, (it’s the biggest),” Diamant said. “We needed this win.”

Now, NU needs to prove that it can consistently play at a high level, which Hackney said is the goal for the remainder of the regular season, which closes out in 10 days.

“We have great effort and attitude, but it’s good to come together and show ourselves we can and are capable of doing this,” she said. “Now we know we can’t settle for less. Now we’re going to raise the bar. This is a benchmark of where we can go, what we can do.”

McKeown admitted Thursday’s win was important, but said he wasn’t “big on ranking wins.” Just like he refused to let his team dwell on the losses to Michigan State and Penn State, he said he won’t let them get too comfortable after a big win. Instead, he’s focused on what is left of this year’s schedule.

“We’ve got to move forward,” he said.