Women’s Basketball: Northwestern to start Big Ten Tournament run Friday


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern huddles and celebrates a fine result. The Wildcats focused on team chemistry in the offseason and have parlayed that effort into a No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a virtually guaranteed bid for the NCAA tournament.

Claire Hansen, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

Coach Joe McKeown has always said “anyone can beat anyone” in the Big Ten, and this weekend, that statement will be put to the ultimate test.

The Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament kicked off in the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, on Wednesday, with the championship game scheduled for Sunday night.

Sitting comfortably as the No. 4 seed, Northwestern (22-7, 12-5 Big Ten) has secured a double bye and will play its first game of the tournament in the quarterfinals Friday afternoon. The No. 4 spot is the highest seed NU has obtained since 1995.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 24 nationally, will play the winner of the matchup between No. 23 Rutgers and Indiana.

No matter which opponent they face, the Cats are not taking anyone lightly.

“Now, everyone is 0-0,” McKeown said. “You want to raise the bar. We understand that we can play with everybody, and we also understand that we are a target.”

At an individual level, NU boasts some of the Big Ten’s standout players. Four Cats were selected as Big Ten postseason award winners Monday.

Sophomore Nia Coffey was named to the All-Big Ten First Team for the second year in a row, while junior Maggie Lyon nabbed a spot on the All-Big Ten honorable mention list for the third consecutive year. Sophomore Ashley Deary received a spot on the honorable mention list and was also given a spot on the five-player Big Ten All-Defensive team. Finally, senior Karly Roser was given the 2015 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.

Coffey said although individual accolades are nice, they don’t mean too much for NU.

“You could be Big Ten Player of the Year, but if your team doesn’t make it to the tournament or doesn’t make it far, there’s no point to me,” Coffey said. “It’s all about the team and how far you take your team and how well you play together in March.”

Playing together hasn’t been too hard for the Cats this year, who, before falling to No. 4 Maryland last week, went undefeated in the month of February. This is also the first season NU has tallied more than 20 wins since 1995-1996.

Lyon described this season’s squad as a “completely different team” than the Cats of 2013-2014.

“I think last year we tried to rely on just talent and that’s hard in the NCAA because every team has talent,” Lyon said. “We worked so hard in the offseason playing together and having that chemistry and trusting each other in everything that we do, and I think that’s totally translated on the court.”

February boasted a handful of exceptionally close games, two of which went into overtime. Lyon also said she hopes this experience will be beneficial in March.

With Rutgers as the No. 5 Big Ten seed to Indiana’s No. 12, NU will likely be facing the Scarlet Knights on Friday afternoon, a familiar team for the Cats. Last week, NU handily defeated Rutgers 80-60. If the Cats do end up facing the Scarlet Knights once more, Coffey said that they will attack the game with a fresh mentality.

“It’s a completely new game,” Coffey said. “We have to have the mentality that we are going to out-rebound them, we’re going to out-play them, and just play together as a team and hope to come out on the strong end.”

Though the possibility of an NU and Rutgers matchup is strong, anything can happen. The uncertainty surrounding their opponent gives the Cats time to look more on themselves.

“It brings us back to who we are, and focusing on us,” McKeown said. “Let’s not spend so much time worrying about who we are playing. Let’s get back to what we do and the fundamentals.”

The Cats are heading into a whirlwind of Big Ten match ups with an outside shot to win the conference title, and the all-but-promised NCAA tournament bid in the back of their minds.

But McKeown said he is urging his players to relax and take it all in.

“There’s so much focus on March,” McKeown said. “I told my players, this is the best time of your life. Years from now you’ll look back and say, I was part of that great 2015 team at Northwestern.”

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Twitter: @clairechansen