Women’s Basketball: Wildcats aim to get back on track in Champaign


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Nia Coffey goes up for the shot. The sophomore forward has been in a shooting slump of late, nailing just 25 percent of her shots from the field over her last three games.

Claire Hansen, Reporter

Northwestern (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) has a shot at redemption Thursday.

Still reeling from losses to Big Ten foes No. 18 Iowa and Michigan, the Wildcats travel to Champaign, Illinois, to play the Fighting Illini (11-7, 2-4) for another conference showdown Thursday night.

Recent inconsistent play in an otherwise outstanding season led to the losses, which will serve to foster tenacious — yet careful — play against Illinois.

“Hopefully (we’re going to bring) a lot of intensity and a little chip on our shoulder,” coach Joe McKeown said. “And the confidence that we can play really well. We’ve just got to find 40 minutes to do it.”

Turnovers plagued the Cats against Michigan, where NU lost the ball 21 times. Some of the turnovers were caused by the defense, but others were self-inflicted, McKeown says. NU faces the challenge of maintaining possession while still playing with the passion McKeown said he hopes to see.

“We’ve just been really focusing on us, on not turning over the ball but still playing with speed and intensity that we want to play,” sophomore forward Nia Coffey said.

The Fighting Illini and the Cats have both proven more than capable of stripping the ball from opponents. Illinois sits first among the Big Ten in turnover margin, causing an average margin of 22.3 turnovers a game. The Cats are a close second, forcing an average margin of just under 21.

“We’re still a young team, so we’ve got to make the extra pass, try to slow down a little bit at times,” McKeown said. “I think we get a little ahead of ourselves at times.”

The two teams may be close in turnover margin, but that’s about it. Illinois sits 12th in field goal percentage and seventh in field goal defense in the conference. NU, on the other hand, ranks second and first, respectively. If the shots fall like they did against Michigan — NU was 50 percent from the field against the Wolverines — the Cats should have no problem running up the scoreboard against the Fighting Illini.

Rebounds also shouldn’t prove problematic. Illinois sits 11th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds and second-to-last in defensive boards. NU will rely heavily on Coffey, who leads the team with 145 grabs this season.

Defensively, Coffey says, the plan is simple.

“We really just want to focus on our defense overall as a team, making sure we can guard the ball with one person so we don’t have to rely on our help side as much,” she said. “Being in the passing lanes, pressing the ball more, just basically picking it up.”

As for the two games that the Cats have dropped, neither McKeown nor Coffey see the losses as anything more than learning experiences.

“(The team is) disappointed coming off last week, but they’re excited for this week,” McKeown said. “I think in the Big Ten, every team that aspires to be really good is going to go through some ups and downs. It’s a tough league, everybody can beat everybody.”

Coffey echoed her coach, saying the Cats plan to focus on the positives, learn from the negatives and move forward.

If the Cats play consistently tenacious defense while maintaining a balanced offense, they shouldn’t have too much trouble in Champaign this weekend.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” McKeown said.

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Twitter: @clairechansen