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Women’s Basketball: Wolverines outshoot Wildcats in Welsh-Ryan

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Women’s Basketball: Wolverines outshoot Wildcats in Welsh-Ryan

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon attempts a shot. Lyon and the Cats fell to Michigan on Thursday night.

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon attempts a shot. Lyon and the Cats fell to Michigan on Thursday night.

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon attempts a shot. Lyon and the Cats fell to Michigan on Thursday night.

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Freshman forward Maggie Lyon attempts a shot. Lyon and the Cats fell to Michigan on Thursday night.

Ariel Yong, Reporter

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The Wildcats gave the Wolverines a run for their money Thursday — at least in the first half.

Northwestern (8-9, 0-4 Big Ten) took on No. 25 Michigan (15-2, 4-0) at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday night. The Cats had hoped to snap their three-game skid with their first conference win but knew it would not be easy to contain Michigan’s powerful offense.

Led by Kate Thompson, the conference leader in 3-point field goals made, the Wolverines entered Evanston with the Big Ten’s longest current winning streak at nine games. By the end of the night, they would extend that streak to ten, beating the Cats 67-53.

“Michigan’s a really experienced team,” coach Joe McKeown said. “(They have) a lot of seniors, coming off the NCAA tournament last year. We’re playing with a lot of young players that haven’t played together. Experience really showed in the way they were able to spread out and reverse the ball. They’re a really solid team.”

The first four minutes of the game were rough for the Cats. The Wolverines sat in a zone defense, and the Cats struggled to get the ball into the paint, throwing sloppy passes to their bigs inside. NU went scoreless for its first three possessions until freshman forward Maggie Lyon hit a jumper to put the Cats on the board.

“They keep (the zone defense) compact so it’s not easy to get openings to drive in through the lanes,” senior forward Kendall Hackney said. “We just got to be aware of help defense like that. They made us pay today, and that was pretty disappointing because we had worked a lot on that … and in the game, it didn’t go as well.”

On the other hand, the Wolverines scored on their first three possessions and took advantage of the Cats’ cold shooting. Michigan jumped out to an early 11-2 lead within the first four minutes, and the Wolverines couldn’t miss. Michigan went 41.4 percent from the field.

The Cats took a timeout and emerged with a new energy. Seven seconds later, Lyon hit a 3-pointer followed by another by senior forward Dannielle Diamant. And just like that, NU cut Michigan’s lead down to only 3.

The Cats continued to play aggressively as they tried to chip away at the Wolverines’ lead, which was 10 at its largest. NU got a lot of open looks off the reversal pass that shifted the Michigan zone defense and left the open jumper. But the Cats struggled to put the ball in the hoop. NU shot just 37.5 percent from the field.

The NU defense held the Wolverines to only three 3-pointers and was effective in running down the shot clock on the Michigan offense. NU held Thompson to only 9 points in the first half and trailed by just 6 going into halftime.

But it all went downhill in the second half.

The Wolverines outscored NU 8-0 as the Cats went scoreless for the first three and a half minutes. Michigan easily penetrated the Cats’ defense and extended its lead, which was 23 at its largest. The Wolverines had wide-open shots and went 50 percent from the field in the second half.

“There’s an old saying in basketball: ‘Don’t let your offense beat your defense,’” McKeown said. “When you can’t score, you miss shots. You get a little frustrated. You break down on the defensive end, and that’s what we got to prevent.”

Thompson exploded in the second half, hitting four 3-pointers. She finished the game with 23 points.

“We just let their best player make open threes, and that’s unacceptable,” Hackney said. “I mean, we can’t do that. That’s just a big letdown on our part. That’s not smart of us because we knew that she was the best shooter and we left her open, and she made us pay. We just got to get better at that. We have to be more focused, especially on the defensive end.”

The Cats launched into desperation mode as they tried to erase the Michigan lead that grew by the minute. NU ran a full court press for a couple of possessions, which proved effective in rattling the Michigan offense and regaining possession of the ball. However, a handful of sloppy passes and offensive fouls left the Cats with few offensive opportunities. And the few possessions they had, NU just couldn’t finish.

“We’ve seen it before and we’re going to see it again,” sophomore forward Alex Cohen said. “So we just have to keep improving and getting what we need to do done.”

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