Women’s Basketball: Wildcats take on Minnesota after top-10 split


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Christen Inman rises for a layup. The junior guard is averaging 15.2 points per game and will be looking to help Northwestern get back on track Wednesday against Minnesota.

Will Ragatz, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

With its toughest stretch of the season in the books, Northwestern has a prime opportunity this week to start its first winning streak in Big Ten play.

After a huge upset win over then-No. 5 Ohio State last Thursday snapped a two-game losing streak, the Wildcats (13-5, 2-4 Big Ten) struggled defensively in a tough loss at then-No. 8 Maryland on Sunday. The team said it is looking to put that stretch behind it and isn’t worried about being just 2-4 in conference play.

“We’re 0-0 this week and looking to go 2-0 against two teams we haven’t faced yet,” senior guard Maggie Lyon said. “We’re gonna give the best effort we can, stay focused and stay together after the rough stretch we’ve had.”

Coach Joe McKeown said his team learned against Maryland, it can’t have one great game and then let up, and that to be a great team, NU has to play at a high level consistently.

This week’s task for the Cats is less daunting than last week’s as they play at Minnesota (11-6, 3-3) and at home against Indiana (10-8, 2-4). The two teams are in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

However, NU isn’t taking anything for granted, especially against Wednesday’s opponent, the  Golden Gophers. Minnesota is 8-2 at home this season, and its nine made 3-pointers per game tops the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally.

After allowing eight triples to Maryland sharpshooter Kristen Confroy on Sunday, McKeown said defending the arc has been a point of emphasis in practice.

“It’s a huge challenge to get to their shooters,” McKeown said. “They do a really good job of finding them at the right times.”

Minnesota is led by senior guard Rachel Banham, who ranks sixth in the NCAA with 23.6 points per game, but Banham isn’t alone.

“They have a lot of weapons,” McKeown said. “As great a player as Rachel Banham is…(sophomore guard Carlie) Wagner, (senior guard Shayne) Mullaney — they’re all shooting really well right now, so you can’t just key in on one person.”

To pick up its first Big Ten road win of the season, NU will need a strong start. Against Ohio State, the Cats led by double digits after the first quarter, then held on for the victory. But at Maryland, NU trailed by double digits after one quarter and was unable to come back.

Lyon said the Cats didn’t have as much early energy against Maryland because they weren’t converting on offense.

“Against Ohio State, we hit a lot of shots in the beginning … and that spurred our energy,” Lyon said. “What we’re learning from the Maryland game and other games is that when we don’t hit those shots in the beginning, we need to focus on our defensive pressure and get stops to generate energy instead.”

McKeown agreed that struggling offensively affected NU’s defense against Maryland and said the team can’t let offensive mistakes affect its defensive effort.

Lyon said the Cats have been talking all season about responding well to adversity. So far, they have only lost consecutive games once, showing they have the ability to respond to tough losses. That’s exactly what NU will be looking to do once more on Wednesday.

If the Cats can beat Minnesota and then come back home and take care of Indiana, they will have their first winning streak in the Big Ten and some momentum. Despite their rough start to conference play, junior forward Nia Coffey said all of the team’s goals are still attainable.

“We still aspire to be Big Ten champs — that’s still very much on the table for us,” Coffey said. “We still know that we can make the NCAA Tournament. We still have 12 games left, so anything can happen.”

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