Women’s Basketball: Drama fills recent Northwestern-Illinois history

Kevin Trahan

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Northwestern-Illinois matchups never lack drama. The last three meetings between the intrastate rivals have been decided by a total of 5 points, including a 3-point NU win in Champaign last season and 1-point wins in Evanston the past two years.

Freshman point guard Karly Roser drained a free throw with 2.6 seconds left to beat the Fighting Illini on Jan. 16, 59-58, giving the series its third-straight dramatic finish. The Wildcats will hope for a similarly positive result Monday at Assembly Hall, dramatic or not.

NU is fresh off a 63-51 victory at No. 16 Nebraska, and Illinois has won three of its last five games, including a 1-point win against Ohio State.

The Cats will look to put together a performance similar to Thursday’s game in Lincoln and play a complete game for the second consecutive contest.

“We had bits and pieces come together in different games,” junior forward Kendall Hackney said. “(Against Nebraska) 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.”

The Cats played arguably their best game of the season, especially on defense, as they held the Cornhuskers to 28.6 percent shooting and 17.9 percent from beyond the arc. It was a welcome improvement for coach Joe McKeown, who has preached to his players about the importance of playing good defense all season.

“I thought defensively we did everything,” McKeown said.

Offensively, NU was crisp as well. Junior forward Dannielle Diamant led the team with 19 points and tied for the team lead with 8 rebounds in her return from injury. She was banged up against Michigan State on Feb. 9 and sat out against Penn State on Feb. 12. Her return for the Nebraska game helped spark the Cats on both ends of the floor.

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

Hackney and Jones both played well against Nebraska, as Hackney had 17 points, and Jones added 8 rebounds. Hackney said NU has to continue to build on last Thursday’s performance and play at a high level for a full 40 minutes now that the Cats have realized their potential.

“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.”