The final seconds could not tick off the clock fast enough for the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.
Northwestern clung to a 3-point lead with eight seconds left against crosstown rival DePaul, but the Blue Demons (3-2) could not get a shot off and the Cats (6-1) escaped with an 82-79 win over the 25th-ranked team in the country.
“It took on that city pride, bragging rights game,” coach Joe McKeown said. “I was just proud of the way we made a couple of defensive stops at the end.”
The turning point of the contest came with 30 seconds to go when junior center Alex Cohen scored her only field goal of the game, grabbing an offensive rebound and finishing a layup while being fouled to tie the game. Subsequently she gave the Cats a slender 1-point lead when she completed the 3-point play with the free throw.McKeown called that play the biggest of Cohen’s career and from that point on NU played stout defense to seal the victory, forcing three turnovers and allowing only one shot attempt.
“The last minute we got big stops,” McKeown said. “It was that type of game that it came down to just getting a stop. … I thought we handled the last minute pretty well.”
The final minutes of the game were a team effort for NU after relying on sophomore forward Lauren Douglas and freshman forward Nia Coffey for most of the contest. The pair combined for 46 points of NU’s first 67 points, but neither player scored in the final five minutes of the game. Instead, it was someone new coming up with the big shot every time the Cats needed one.
NU started the game on fire, hitting its first eight shots and taking an impressive 22-4 lead just 6 minutes and 41 seconds into the contest. In that same stretch, DePaul was 1-for-11 from the field.McKeown said it was NU’s defensive play that allowed the Cats’ offense to flourish, a sentiment freshman guard Christen Inman echoed.
“It started with our defense and we really wanted to stop them from scoring first,” Inman said. “We knew they were going to come out pressing so in transition we really took advantage of the fact we could break their press, and that’s what really set us off.”
However, NU could not stay as red hot offensively, and DePaul’s attack warmed up from its icy slumber. The Blue Demons went on an 18-0 run to tie the game at 25 and then ended the half on a 9-0 run to take a 36-30 lead into the locker room.
The biggest difference in the latter part of the first half was DePaul’s ability to light it up from behind the arc. The Blue Demons hit six 3-pointers to help close the gap, many of which were fairly open.
“We kind of lost their best shooters in transition,” McKeown said. “At the end of the first half, we lost them a lot, and they were wide open for layups. In the second half, we made them work a lot (harder).”
The win over a ranked opponent should give NU some confidence as it heads into the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this week, where it will face North Carolina State. The Cats are now a perfect 6-0 at home and Douglas said the team was able to prove to itself that it can be competitive in the Big Ten if it plays up to its potential on a nightly basis.“This win’s extremely important,” Douglas said. “To be able to show ourselves and others that we can play with high caliber teams, it gives us the confidence that we can beat everybody in the Big Ten as long as we play our game.”
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