Women’s Basketball: Wildcats thirst for revenge against Golden Gophers

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

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It’s more than just a rematch for Northwestern.

Earlier this season, Minnesota (16-9, 5-6 Big Ten) handed the Wildcats (14-10, 4-7) their worst loss of the year, a 94-59 rout that left NU reeling. The trouncing was especially crushing coming just days after the Cats’ upset then-No. 21 Purdue.

When Minnesota visits Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday, NU will be out for revenge.

“All of us hate losing so much,” sophomore forward Lauren Douglas said, “especially in that fashion, where we weren’t playing our game.”

The Cats have dropped their last three contests and will likely need to win the remaining five and make a run in the Big Ten Tournament in order to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Still, coach Joe McKeown’s young squad, led by freshman forward Nia Coffey, is pushing as hard as it can. Coffey exploded for 29 points, a career high, and 10 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season, in NU’s latest loss, against Iowa on Monday.

McKeown has nothing but praise for his team’s leading scorer.

“Each game, (Coffey) gets a lot better and a lot smarter,” he said. “Those are the things I gauge, more so than points or rebounds or stats. I think that her decision-making is so much better now than when she got here. She’s very coachable, and that really helps.”

And, despite all of her gaudy stats, Coffey is still focused on winning games this season and beyond.

“I really love playing with this team and playing with these girls,” she said. “We haven’t even reached our potential yet. It’s really exciting to see where we’ll be in the next few years.”

Douglas played Coffey’s sidekick against the Hawkeyes, putting up 25 points in the high-scoring defeat. The top bench player figures to see a bigger role on defense Saturday as the Cats face off against another one of the Big Ten’s best scorers, Golden Gophers guard Rachel Banham.

The Minnesota junior leads the Big Ten at 22.1 points per game and dropped 28 the last time the teams played. When it comes to a player as talented as Banham, McKeown believes good defense comes from more than just the player assigned to guard her.

“(Banham) is a great player,” McKeown said. “No one else has really been able to stop her. You just have to be in good position. … It’s a team effort.”

McKeown and his players also think they learned valuable lessons from the blowout loss against Minnesota that will give them an edge.

“We’re still trying to find ourselves because we’re so young,” McKeown said. “That game, I think we just had a lot of mental mistakes. I think we learned some things, like every game so far.”

Douglas also stressed the mental aspect of the game.

“Focusing on the little things,” she said, when asked how the team could improve. “We didn’t play defense well. We need to scout what we did and put it into effect.”

But mental sharpness might not be enough to stand in the way of a more experienced Minnesota squad eyeing its own postseason run.

Email: robertpillote2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote