Women’s Basketball: Wildcats open regular season this weekend

Tim Balk, Reporter

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Tip-off


Northwestern will tip off its season this weekend, heading to Chicago State on Friday night and making their home opener on Sunday against Hampton University.

The Wildcats enter the year looking to build off a 17-win campaign last winter that concluded with a trip to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. They return with all five starters from that squad: sophomore forward Nia Coffey,  junior guard Maggie Lyon, sophomore guard Christen Inman, senior center Alex Cohen and sophomore guard Ashley Deary.

The Cats’ leading returning scorer and rebounder is Nia Coffey, who averaged more than 15 points and eight rebounds per game last winter. She was named to the coaches’ preseason All Big-Ten team.

“There’s higher expectations for me and the team,” Coffey said. “I’m ready to compete.”

Coffey logged 14 points and 11 rebounds in the Cats’ preseason exhibition against Wisconsin-Parkside on Nov. 9, a game NU won 78-47.

The exhibition wrapped up a fruitful offseason for the Cats.

“As a team, we really worked on our chemistry, just playing together,” Coffey said last month.

Also critical for a team that has set its eyes on a visit to the NCAA Tournament is Maggie Lyon, who led the Cats in minutes per game last year and was second in scoring.

“I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” said Lyon, adding that she’s worked on being able to get up and down the court with greater ease.

Coach Joe McKeown is entering his seventh year at the helm of NU’s program. The Cats have won 88 games under McKeown and earned three WNIT berths, but have yet to make a visit to the NCAA Tournament. They last visited the NCAAs in 1997.

“It’s going to be fun,” McKeown said. “We’re a fun team to watch. Trying to score a lot of points. Defensively we’ve got to get a lot better or else we’ll give up a lot of points and really that’s how we’re looking at it this year. And we have some great young talent. Just an exciting team.”

The Cats’ battle with Chicago State will be the teams’ eighth meeting. NU beat its interstate rival 64-33 last year and leads the all time series 5-2.

Meanwhile, the Cats will face Hampton for just the second time ever on Sunday. NU holds a 1-0 lead in the series, having defeated Hampton 58-45 in 2003.

The Cats will hope to parlay the increased chemistry and deep returning talent into a strong regular season campaign.

“We’re really excited to have people see the team that we’ve become,” Lyon said. “We’re so much more supportive of each other. I think our chemistry is better. We’re excited going into the season; we want to get on the court and play some games.”

Alex Putterman contributed reporting.

Email: timbalk2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @timbalk

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