Women’s Basketball: Strong defense helps Wildcats improve to 3-0

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Women’s Basketball: Strong defense helps Wildcats improve to 3-0

Kendall Hackney and the Wildcats played a tough, defensive game against visiting Howard. The senior forward helped spark NU on the offensive end with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Kendall Hackney and the Wildcats played a tough, defensive game against visiting Howard. The senior forward helped spark NU on the offensive end with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Daily file photo by Emily Howell

Kendall Hackney and the Wildcats played a tough, defensive game against visiting Howard. The senior forward helped spark NU on the offensive end with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Daily file photo by Emily Howell

Daily file photo by Emily Howell

Kendall Hackney and the Wildcats played a tough, defensive game against visiting Howard. The senior forward helped spark NU on the offensive end with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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In basketball, defense is quite literally half the battle. While it may not get you on SportsCenter, preventing the other team from scoring is usually a worthwhile pursuit.

Led by a strong defensive effort, Northwestern (3-0) overcame a weak start to upend visiting Howard (0-4) Monday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Cats struggled to score early, notching only 16 points through the game’s first 13 minutes. Still, they held the Bison to only 14 points in that same stretch, and before long the offense woke up. In the final 6:36 of the first half, NU outscored Howard 10-0 and by the break had a 12-point lead they wouldn’t come close to relinquishing.

Howard shot only 22.4 percent all night — 14.3 percent in the first half — , their leading scorer particularly troubled by the Cats defense. Bison senior Saadia Doyle was named pre-season MEAC Player of the Year and came in averaging 26 points per game but couldn’t solve NU’s complex defensive scheme. The guard scored only 12 points on 4-18 shooting, thanks to a concerted effort to slow her output.

“She’s a terrific player,” coach Joe McKeown said. “She’s had some great games so far. I like how we played her defensively. She made some tough shots, but I thought defensively probably our best effort of the year.”

In the past, McKeown has resisted the notion that his defense, which on Monday included a full-court press and aspects of a 2-3 or matchup zone, is in fact a zone. When asked to define the approach, the coach was witty but ambiguous.

“Tonight it looked like Swiss cheese at times,” he said, chuckling. “We looked like provolone at times too, filled all the holes in. It’s a work in progress this time of year.”

For the third straight game, the Cats were led in scoring by a freshman, as forward Maggie Lyon tied for the team lead with 16 points. Senior Dannielle Diamont also notched 16 to go with 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, while freshman Lauren Douglas, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week following her double-double against Central Michigan, scored only 5 points but led NU’s defensive effort with 5 blocks.

Lyon, who last weekend said she was working to improve her defense, stole 4 Howard passes, attributing that success to being in the right position within a successful defensive scheme born out of a lot of work.

“This whole week we’ve been focusing on defense in practice,” she said. “I think it really showed with their shooting percentage and holding their best player to not that many points. So I think it was a great team effort for defense.”

After starting their season with two wins in three days a week ago, the Cats had plenty of time to fine-tune their tactics before meeting the Bison. While the lay-off may have contributed to the sluggish start, it also allowed for lots of attention to defense.

“We had a week off games, but we had a really good week of practice,” senior forward Kendall Hackney said. “It was a little bit of a rough first half — that happens — but thankfully our defense was able to be solid.”

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