Women’s Basketball: Wildcats fall in heartbreaker against Fighting Illini

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Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman guard Ashley Deary recovers her footing. Although Deary scored only 7 points for Northwestern on Wednesday night, earlier in the day she was named to the watch list for the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award, which honors the nation’s top point guard.

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

Despite the best efforts of its young squad, Northwestern fell to in-state rival Illinois in heartbreaking fashion Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Wildcats (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) were down just 2 with 5.8 seconds left in the game after a back-and-forth battle with the Fighting Illini (8-9, 1-3). Star freshman guard Ashley Deary took the ball down the court in an attempt to get the tying basket, but Illinois, as it was able to for much of the game, forced a turnover and held on to win 76-74.

“We were stagnant and not moving, and that’s what caused turnovers. We were trying to force some things,” coach Joe McKeown said. “However, we didn’t turn the ball over in the backcourt where they could score.”

The Cats had 17 turnovers in the game, including seven by Deary, who didn’t play at her usual caliber, putting up only 7 points but still managing to lead the team with nine assists.

Despite her subpar outing on Wednesday, Deary’s usually exceptional play through the season so far earned her a spot on the 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List, honoring her as a top point guard in women’s NCAA Division I basketball, the team announced earlier Wednesday.

“It means a lot to me to be honored like that,” she said. “There’s a lot of great players on that list, and I’m honored to be with them.”

The Cats trusted their point guard with the ball in the final seconds of the game, hoping she could work her magic to tie the game. Sophomore guard Maggie Lyon had no doubt NU did the right thing by trusting the freshman guard with the game on the line.

“We want the ball in (Deary’s) hands,” Lyon said. “The play was well planned out, and next time we do it. We will execute it.”

The team’s youngsters still managed to carry their weight Wednesday night. Freshman forward Nia Coffey did what her classmate couldn’t, pushing through the staunch Illinois defense to lead the team with 20 points.

In addition to its offensive woes, NU had difficulty on defense as well, allowing Illinois to drain 11 3-pointers.

“They shot well,” Lyon said. “We over-helped, and I think that we will see that in film tomorrow. That happened in Minnesota too.”

The Cats had troubles containing Fighting Illini guards Ivory Crawford and Sarah Hartwell in particular. Crawford led her team with 19 points and was 2-of-2 from behind the arc, and Hartwell went 3-for-4 from deep.

The two teams traded baskets and leads throughout the game, staying neck and neck until the very end. The close game mimicked past matchups between the two rivals who always seem to be on each other’s heels.

“Both teams really get up for the game,” Lyon said. “It’s a pride thing for all athletics within the university. We came out at the wrong end of this one, but we’ll get them in the Big Ten Tournament if we see them.”

Lyon herself came out strong on the 3-point line for the Cats, ending the night 4-of-8 from deep.

NU faces Wisconsin on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan to cap off a busy, three-game week.

“The game Saturday has become big for us,” McKeown said. “We just need to learn from this and step up on Saturday.”

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