Women’s Basketball: Wildcats look to capitalize on momentum into the Big Ten Tournament

Freshman guard Christen Inman looks to pass. Northwestern’s success this season has largely depended on the success of its freshman, who often lead the Wildcats in games and make up three of the team’s five usual starters.

Daily file photo by Annabel Edwards

Freshman guard Christen Inman looks to pass. Northwestern’s success this season has largely depended on the success of its freshman, who often lead the Wildcats in games and make up three of the team’s five usual starters.

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

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Northwestern will face a familiar foe Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

The Wildcats (15-14, 5-11 Big Ten) are set to face the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-17, 5-11), a team they lost to less than two weeks ago on Feb. 23. In that game, Ohio State jumped out to a huge first-half lead and cruised to a 71-62 victory. NU will look to avoid making the same mistake twice.

“The game started at noon, and we showed up at 1,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We just were terrible in the first half. … We had 23 turnovers, and we can’t do that again. That’s the big key for us.”

The Cats were in a tailspin to end the regular season, dropping seven contests in a row before finally righting the ship with a victory in their last game against Wisconsin. Despite the rough finish, the players believe that one win is enough to be a shot of momentum heading into the postseason.

“Coming from our game against Wisconsin, we have a lot more confidence,” sophomore guard Maggie Lyon said.

Freshman guard Christen Inman echoed Lyon’s sentiments.

“Going into post-season play, it’s 0-0,” she said, “but it’s always nice to come off a win. … Going into Big Ten play, it’s important to have a lot of confidence.”

A similar downward spiral engulfed the Buckeyes during the home stretch of their schedule. Ohio State lost seven of its last eight games, with the only win coming over the Cats. But even with that victory in tow, Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff has nothing but high regard for NU.

“Northwestern is coming off a win, and they seem to be playing pretty well here at the end of the year,” he said. “We had a really hard-fought contest with them the first time around, so I think it’s going to be a tough matchup for us.”

McGuff’s kind words are small consolation. NU will have to perform in the tournament to wash away the sour taste of the end of the regular season.

There are many potential explanations for the Cats’ collapse, but chief among them is the inexperience of the roster. NU has started three freshmen for almost all of this season, and the team has won or lost largely on that newcomers’ success or failure. But in spite of the pressure and criticisms, the squad’s youngest players seem relaxed, not nervous, heading into Thursday.

“I’m excited for it,” Inman said. “Our coaches prepare us really well, and they prepared all of us, including all the freshmen, for what’s ahead. ”

In addition to their usual slots in the rotation, the Cats’ upperclassmen will also play a vital role in mentoring and guiding the freshmen. Lyon, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had some specific advice.

“It’s now or never,” she said. “It’s not a ‘We can play a bad first half and hopefully get it back in the second half.’ The games count a lot more, they mean a lot more … but I think we have the right mindset and we’re ready to go.”

Barring a run all the way through the Big Ten bracket, NU wont be making the NCAA Tournament. But the Cats will be jockeying for position in the postseason NIT. Even with that at stake, McKeown is hesitant to look too far into the future.

“We haven’t really looked at it that way,” he said, when asked if playing in the NIT was a ‘big deal’. “We know that the winner of the Big Ten Tournament gets to play in the NCAA Tournament. When the dust settles this weekend, then we’ll readdress where we are.”

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

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