Women’s Basketball: Northwestern celebrates tournament selection, looks to give seniors last hurrah

Khadrice Rollins, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

The room erupted with cheers as nerves were calmed and an assumption became a reality: Northwestern had made the NCAA tournament.

Although the Wildcats expected to be in the field of 64, the team was still excited to see its name in the official bracket Monday night.

“They’ve done all the heavy lifting, all the hard work, and they should enjoy this,” coach Joe McKeown said.

NU received the 7-seed in Oklahoma City region on Monday, matching up against 10-seeded Arkansas in the opening round in Waco, Texas, on Friday.

This will be the 18th NCAA tournament appearance for McKeown, but his first in seven years with NU.

When McKeown came to Evanston to take over the Cats, he knew he was going to have to rebuild. But after a couple of years, he knew he would have this team on the national radar before most expected.

“I felt like we were doing a lot of great things,” McKeown said. “But to finally get over the hump and close it out where you know you’re going to be in the tournament. I didn’t have a timetable when I got here, but I’m just glad we got it done this year and (we will) try to build off it.”

The seniors on the team, center Alex Cohen and guard Karly Roser, have collected 67 wins so far in their college careers, the most for any players who have played under McKeown for all four years during his time at NU.

And although it appears NCAA tournament appearances will become common during the rest of McKeown’s tenure at NU, this will be the only chance for Cohen and Roser to enjoy it.

As the team prepares for its game on Friday, the non-seniors on the team will be looking to make sure that Cohen and Roser enjoy this run.

“They’ve been here during tougher times and they’ve pushed through that and they’re really strong because of it, and I respect them so much,” sophomore forward Nia Coffey said. “So I know this is a really special moment for them … but we’re all just very happy to be here and we’re happy for them to experience this as well.”

As the season progressed, it became more and more obvious that this team was going to be playing in March. The Cats’ tournament bid was a virtual lock on Monday, but it didn’t diminish the power of the announcement.

“It was awesome, it was so surreal,” junior guard Maggie Lyon said. “I’ve always dreamed of this moment especially for Northwestern, and to get this program to where it is today is awesome.”

Even though the team wants to enjoy this moment and this opportunity, this is what NU was expected to do this season.

Last year, the Cats totaled 17 wins on their way to the WNIT where they reached the round of 16, and they saw that as coming up short.

“We didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Coffey said. “And we told ourselves at the end of the season that what we want to do, we want to make the tournament. Our hard work has really paid off and just the fact that it has been so long since we made it to the tournament it’s just like a cherry on top of the sundae.”

This year’s team was the first NU squad since 1996 to reach 20 wins and be ranked in the Top 25. The Cats also picked up five wins against ranked opponents and finished fourth in the Big Ten.

While the Cats will be favorites going into their first round matchup, McKeown will make sure the team does what it has all season, and take everything one step at a time.

“There will be one thing on our mind and that’s the next thing up,” McKeown said. “Our team has done a great job at doing that all year.”

Email: khadricerollins2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @KhadriceRollins