It took 11 games, but Northwestern finally received its first tally in the loss column. The Wildcats can thank DePaul’s Megan Podkowa for that.
The senior forward finished with a career-high 27 points, leading the No. 16 Blue Demons (8-4) to a back and forth 77-64 victory over the No. 12 Wildcats (10-1), ending NU’s undefeated season.
All game long, Northwestern’s defense had no answer for Podkowa, who had 14 rebounds and four blocks to go along with her scoring. She consistently hurt the Cats from deep, making six of her seven 3-point attempts, including at least one in every quarter.
Every time NU made a run, Podkowa and DePaul seemed to have an answer.
“Give DePaul a lot of credit,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They executed, made shots when they had to, and then when we made a run, they came right back.”
In their toughest test of the season, the Cats struggled mightily out of the gate. McKeown has described his team as “a very streaky shooting team,” and it was on the bad side of that early on. NU missed just about everything in the first quarter — threes, mid-range jumpers, layups, free throws — finishing just 2-of-17 from the field and 2-of-6 from the line and falling behind 18-8.
“Sometimes shots just aren’t falling, and I think that’s honestly what we can attribute our slow start to,” said junior guard Christen Inman, who led the Cats with 17 points.
DePaul’s lead grew to 14 early in the second quarter before sophomore guard Lydia Rohde, making the first start of her career, sparked a 12-4 run for NU. Rohde hit two threes and a layup to bring the Cats within 6 at 26-20.
However, led by Podkowa and fellow senior Chanise Jenkins, the Blue Demons fought back. Jenkins scored 8 of DePaul’s next 10 points, bringing her team’s lead back to double digits. Then, with one second left in the quarter, Podkowa drained her fourth triple of the game, giving DePaul a 39-26 lead at halftime.
The senior duo, DePaul’s leading scorers this season, combined for 28 points and 12 rebounds in the first half.
Meanwhile, no Northwestern player had reached double figures. NU’s leading scorer, junior forward Nia Coffey, had just 1 point at halftime.
It didn’t get much better for NU early in the third quarter. Podkowa hit her fifth 3-pointer of the game, growing DePaul’s lead to 18. To make matters worse, NU senior guard Maggie Lyon picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench with 4:25 left in the period.
Yet, when McKeown replaced Lyon with freshman guard Jordan Hankins, losing 50-34, the Cats came to life. A 16-3 run led by Hankins, Coffey and Inman brought the crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena to its feet and pulled NU within 3 points. That remained the deficit heading into the game’s final quarter.
Unfortunately for NU fans, the pendulum swung back to DePaul in the fourth. A quick 10-2 run put the Blue Demons back up by double digits, and they held off the Cats the rest of the way.
“We just lost focus on our own execution,” Inman said about the start to the fourth quarter.
After the game, McKeown said he believes suffering their first loss could actually help the Cats, with just one game left before conference play begins.
“It’s probably good for us,” McKeown said. “It gives us some things we can look at and say, ‘These are our weaknesses, we gotta get better at (them) before we get into the Big Ten.’ It’s not a good feeling, but it’s good preparation.”
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