Women’s Basketball: Wildcats looking to finish strong at Rutgers


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah fights with a defender for the ball. The freshman tied her career-high in rebounds against Minnesota with 16.

Cole Paxton, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

Fourth quarters seem to be decisive for Northwestern.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game at Rutgers (14-10, 5-7 Big Ten), the Wildcats (14-10, 3-9) are 2-1 in Big Ten games in which they win the fourth quarter and just 1-8 when being outscored in the final period. That one win was against then-No. 5 Ohio State, a game the Cats led by 18 at halftime but held on to win by only 4.

“A lot of it is going to come down to being mentally tough in the end, being disciplined, stay in our stance, do the little things to close out the game,” junior guard Ashley Deary said. “We made some little mistakes that kind of cost us the game against Minnesota.”

In Sunday’s 112-106 double-overtime loss to Minnesota (16-7, 8-4), the Cats failed to hold a 6-point lead with 2:11 left in regulation and couldn’t close out the Gophers in the first overtime despite leading by 5 with 42 seconds to play.

Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights and NU have eerily similar fourth quarter numbers. Rutgers has won the final period in four of its five Big Ten victories, and in losses, has been outscored five-of-seven times.

Junior forward Nia Coffey said she believes focus will be key for the Cats to close out games more strongly.

“We (need to) contain the ball, rebound, just make sure that we’re really smart with our possessions and take good shots,” Coffey said.

NU is looking not only to finish strong against Rutgers, but also through the rest of the Big Ten season, coach Joe McKeown said. With just six conference games remaining, the Cats are in a three-way tie for 11th place in the 14-team Big Ten.

Possessing an RPI of 85 as of Tuesday and losing 10 games through early February, NU will very likely need to win the Big Ten Tournament to return to the NCAA Tournament this year. McKeown said he is more concerned with the Cats’ play than anything else.

“We’ve talked a lot about getting better, building our momentum into March,” McKeown said. “We’ve really talked about that rather than winning games. We’re young. As hard a game as it was (Sunday), we did a lot of great things too.”

NU had several strong performances on Sunday: Senior guard Maggie Lyon tied her season-high with 31 points, the Cats had five players reach double figures and freshman forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah tied her career-high with 16 rebounds. All of NU’s big four — Coffey, Deary, junior guard Christen Inman and Lyon — played at least 41 minutes in the double overtime contest.

McKeown, however, downplayed any concerns about fatigue, despite the team traveling to New Jersey just 48 hours after the double-overtime thriller.

“They’re young; they’ll bounce back,” he said of his team. “I think it’s one of those things where you just got to move forward. Rutgers played (Sunday), so everybody’s playing pretty much on the same dates.”

Against Rutgers, the Cats won’t have to worry about slowing down Rachel Banham and Carlie Wagner, the Minnesota tandem that leads the nation in combined scoring. Banham scored an NCAA record-tying 60 points on Sunday and the duo combined for 81 in the contest.

The Scarlet Knights have only two players who average double-digit scoring, and the team has not scored 80 points all season.

Deary said the key to victory for NU is to focus on itself and make a few minor adjustments.

“It’s just going to be us finishing defensively as well as doing little things, knocking down free throws, just a few smarter plays,” she said.

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