Women’s Basketball: Second-half run lifts Michigan State past Northwestern, 76-57

Kevin Trahan

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It was a fitting end to Northwestern’s regular season as defensive lapses cost the Wildcats yet another game, this time a 76-57 loss to Michigan State. Again the mantra was the same: NU didn’t play a full 40 minutes, particularly on the defensive end. That inconsistency has cost the Cats in conference play all season.

“Injuries and having to change lineups a lot (with) different people playing out of position, more than anything else probably has led to us not being able to play defense well for 40 minutes,” coach Joe McKeown said. “Our league has become such a great guard league, so you have to stay back and stay between people and basket. That’s something we haven’t been that good at all year.”

Because of those defensive lapses and sloppy offensive play, Michigan State was able to go on a 23-6 run out of halftime, picking apart the Cats’ fast-break defense.

“Transition defense and runs just really set us back,” McKeown said. “It was a pretty even game in the first half. That run in the second half, most of it was in transition.”

Junior forward Dannielle Diamant agreed transition defense was the difference-maker, along with offensive rebounds, as NU was out-rebounded 14 to 9 on the offensive glass.

The Cats have struggled with injuries this year, including one to their top transition player, senior forward Brittany Orban. She was honored before the game as part of NU’s Senior Day, along with guards Allison Mocchi and Tailor Jones. McKeown said NU missed Orban’s efforts this season.

“Brittany Orban just has a toughness, a mindset (where she’s) the hardest-working player on the floor,” McKeown said. “She just was relentless and she lived on the floor. We missed that, that glue player.”

Mocchi said she was unhappy with the Cats’ defensive play at times but encouraged by the way NU battled back in the last part of the game.

“When we want to push tempo and be aggressive on defense, you saw we turned a 20-point deficit into (9 points),” she said. “Just being confident in each other, it’s going to make a huge difference just playing those full 40 minutes and knowing your teammates have your back the whole time.”

McKeown said he was disappointed with the result as well, but like Mocchi, he was impressed with the resiliency his team showed when it was down by as many as 23 points, cutting that deficit to 9 points with 4 minutes and 4 seconds left in the game.

“I was hoping we’d end up with a winning record in regular season,” he said. “We were right there in the last couple weeks … Our players, we saw the fight in them today.”

Now, NU turns its attention to the Big Ten Tournament where, as an 11-seed, the Cats will play 6-seed Nebraska.

“Everybody can beat everybody on any given night,” McKeown said. “For us, you have nothing to lose. We’re going to throw out the traditional things we tried to do all year and just play.”