Women’s Basketball: Northwestern takes improved defense to Michigan

Senior+forward+Kendall+Hackney+boxes+out+her+opponent.+Hackney+and+Wildcats+play+Michigan+for+the+second+time+this+season+after+losing+in+the+first+meeting.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Senior forward Kendall Hackney boxes out her opponent. Hackney and Wildcats play Michigan for the second time this season after losing in the first meeting.

Ariel Yong, Reporter

The Wildcats have shown they can hang with the big dogs.

Despite two four-game skids in the middle of the season, Northwestern (13-14, 5-9 Big Ten) has found its chemistry and has managed to pull out key victories down the stretch, including a nail-biter against Wisconsin on Saturday.

“We preach it all the time, like 40 minutes, 40 minutes 40 minutes,” freshman forward Maggie Lyon said. “We try to do that in our losses too. But in this game, I think, it helped, (because) we were home and we’ve just been frustrated with those close games. It’s nearing the Big Ten tournament so (we’re doing) anything to try and pull out the win.”

After a slow first half, the Cats turned up the heat in the second and tightened up their defense against the Badgers. NU held Wisconsin to 23.2 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Cats took the lead over Wisconsin with just under 2 minutes left in the game and did not look back, defeating the Badgers, 54-52.

“We knew that if we just played solid defense we were going to win the game no matter how close it was,” senior forward Kendall Hackney said. “I think (it) was huge for us and a really good sign for what we can do in the next couple of weeks into the tournament.”

The Cats’ last seven games have been decided by an average point differential of about 5, including a buzzer-beater win over then No. 24 Iowa.

NU will look to keep the game close this time around as they head to Ann Arbor, Mich. on Thursday night.

The Cats face off against the Wolverines (19-8, 8-6) in their last conference road game of the regular season and are fully aware of the work cut out for them. In the two teams’ last meeting on Jan. 17, the Cats had no answer to Michigan’s tight zone defense and struggled to put the ball in the hoop. On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines shot 45.1 percent from the field and a whopping 93.3 percent from the foul line. NU failed to contain Michigan’s hot shooter, Kate Thompson, who finished with 23 points and seven 3-pointers.

“We left (Kate) Thompson open,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They did a good job finding her and it went from being a 5, 6-point game to her breaking the game open and us just doing a very poor job defensively. Really, we fought hard to come back at the end, but we ran out of time.”

However, the Cats have stepped up their defensive game since the loss to the Wolverines. In the last six games, they’ve averaged 28 defensive rebounds, almost 5 blocks and 6 steals per game. With the Big Ten tournament in sight, NU isn’t holding anything back.

“It’s more about us,” McKeown said. “Just have fun, have some confidence. Play your best basketball at the end of the year. That was our goal in October.”

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