Women’s Basketball: Rested Northwestern takes on Arkansas in opening round of NCAA Tournament


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Ashley Deary floats a shot toward the basket. The sophomore guard expects Northwestern to continue its aggressive approach against a strong Arkansas defense.

Khadrice Rollins, Reporter

After getting to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern will look to make another deep run in a postseason event.

The No. 22 Wildcats (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten) will start off their NCAA Tournament appearance with a matchup against Arkansas (17-13, 6-10 SEC) on Friday.

This will be the first game NU has played since it fell to No. 4 Maryland, 74-63, on March 7.

The Cats have a total of 12 days of rest between games in the longest break the Cats have had all season,

“Having some time just to prep, with reading week last week and school, trying to get some of that off their plate before they go into the tournament, it’s been good,” Coach Joe McKeown said.

Friday’s game will be played in Waco, Texas, meaning the Cats will have to travel much further than they have for any recent contest.

The largest distance NU had to go during the conference season was to University Park, Pennsylvania, for a contest with Penn State. For Friday’s game however, the team will have to travel more than 1,000 miles.

NU did make trips to Blacksburg, Virginia, Las Vegas and Tempe, Arizona, back in December however, which means the Cats are familiar with extensive travel.

But it could be beneficial for the team that they have not had to travel far in a long time.

“Not playing too far really worked for our advantage,” sophomore forward Nia Coffey said. “But we’re just really excited to play at all, and to play anywhere.”

The Cats, a No. 7 seed, are coming off arguably their most impressive stretch of the season. They have won nine of their last 11 games, including four wins against teams that will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

10th-seeded Arkansas, on the other hand, has lost three of its last four contests. Along with that, the Razorbacks have only won consecutive games once during their conference season.

From the matchup perspective, the situation is more mixed.

Arkansas averages only 60.3 points per game on 37.2 percent shooting, which bodes poorly against a stingy Cats’ defense that placed fourth in the Big Ten giving up just 62.7 points per contest.

And while the Razorbacks match up well height wise — forward Jessica Jackson stands at 6-foot-3 and forwards Jhasmin Bowen and Melissa Wolff come in at 6-foot-1 and 6-foot against NU’s 6-foot-5 center Alex Cohen and 6-foot-1 Coffey — Arkansas has been out blocked 143-107 by opponents this season and run into a Cats squad that is second in the Big Ten in blocks at 5.9 per contest.

On the flip side, Arkansas is a solid rebounding team up against a below average NU squad on the boards. And what the Cats may do best, force turnovers, may not be that relevant against the Razorbacks.

NU has forced teams into 19.6 turnovers per contest, second-best in the Big Ten, but Arkansas has given away the ball just 13.1 times per game, the lowest in the SEC.

And as opposed to their weak offense, the Razorbacks boast a robust defense that has the Cats’ attention.

“They’ve done a great job of controlling the pace of the game and defensively being able to stop the other team’s best player, so that’s something we have to focus on,” McKeown said. “They keep the scores defensively really low and against some high-powered teams. We have to find some ways to score, and that’s going to be important.”

That doesn’t mean NU is opting for a passive approach, though. The Cats operate a fast-paced attack that can score in bunches when it’s really whirring and that identity will remain, even if a dab more of patience is involved.

“We are a very aggressive team so we want to make sure we keep that same mindset out there,” sophomore guard Ashley Deary said. “We just have to pick and choose when to push the transition, and when to pull it back out and run the offense.”

Whatever the case, NU will be the favorites. But McKeown is going into this game with the utmost respect for his opponent and does not expect to see his team overlooking their competition.

“We’ll have great respect,” McKeown said. “I think there will only be one thing on our mind, and that’s the next game up.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhadriceRollins