Women’s Basketball: Northwestern outlasts Wisconsin in first round of Big Ten Tournament


Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Nia Coffey dribbles up the court. The junior forward tied with Christen Inman to lead the Wildcats with 18 points Wednesday.

Cole Paxton, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

INDIANAPOLIS — In a season where Northwestern repeatedly fell apart in crunch time, the Wildcats came through in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Junior guard Christen Inman and junior forward Nia Coffey each scored 18 points, and NU (16-15, 4-14 Big Ten) overcame the absence of senior guard Maggie Lyon to defeat Wisconsin (7-22, 3-15) 76-72 in overtime in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday in Indianapolis. With the win, NU, the No. 12 seed in the tournament, advances to play fifth-seeded Minnesota on Thursday.

The team announced shortly before the game that Lyon, who had started every game this season before Wednesday, would not play with a lower-body injury. She wore a walking boot on her left foot before the game.

Coach Joe McKeown went deep into his bench in Lyon’s absence. Sophomore guard Lydia Rohde started just her second game of the season, and played a season-high 36 minutes. Several other reserves played extended minutes, especially as several NU players, including junior guard Ashley Deary and freshman forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah dealt with foul issues in the first half.

“Just a wild basketball game,” coach Joe McKeown said. “A lot of rollercoasters.”

At one point the Cats had freshman guard Jordan Hankins, freshman guard Amber Jamison and junior forward Allie Tuttle on the court at the same time. Though Jamison and Tuttle made only minor contributions, Hankins had a significant impact.

Hankins hit a pair of 3-pointers late in the second quarter, scoring NU’s only points in almost the last 3:54 of the half. Before Wednesday, Hankins had only made seven 3-pointers this season.

“(Jordan’s) a really good shooter and we have ultimate confidence in her,” Inman said. “Her just coming in and doing what she does best was really just what we needed her for and wanted her to do.”

The first half as a whole included 12 lead changes, and neither team led by more than 5 before the break, but the Badgers, who held a 33-32 halftime lead, built a 10-point lead in the third quarter.

The Cats, however, took their first second half lead with 6:33 to play. The Badgers temporarily regained the lead a moment later, but NU retook the advantage shortly thereafter.

With the score tied late in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin guard Dakota Whyte hit a long jumper with 40 seconds remaining to give the Badgers a 67-65 lead, but Inman evened the score with a layup on NU’s next possession. Wisconsin failed to get a shot off on in the final 20 seconds to send the game into overtime.

“We knew we were going to have to get stops and rebound, and then after we got rebounds we really wanted to score in transition,” Deary said of the second half run. “I think that made all the difference, it was just being disciplined on defense and focusing on getting stops.”

The Cats struggled at times to rebound. Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 49-48 and though NU had 15 offensive boards to 13 for the Badgers, Wisconsin did far more damage with its second opportunities.

The Badgers totaled 21 second chance points to just 7 for the Cats, scoring twice on second opportunities late in the third quarter when NU was making a run.

The Cats also struggled to corral Wisconsin forward Michala Johnson. The senior scored 16 points in the first half and finished with 22. She shot an efficient 9-of-15 from the field and added eight rebounds.

“We tried. She had a big day,” McKeown said of Johnson. “I thought we did a better job of making it hard for her to get the ball in the second half.”

Despite the struggles on the glass, NU never trailed in the extra period. Clutch free throws by Inman and Deary, in addition to a block with 4 seconds left by Jamison, ultimately sealed the victory for the Cats and ensured their advance to the next round.

After the game, McKeown said he was “still trying to figure out what happened today,” before adding that he would quickly turn his focus to Minnesota. Rohde, however, said she was already looking ahead to Thursday.

“We’re already focused on tomorrow,” Rohde said. “I’m so ready.”

This story was updated with postgame quotes.

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Twitter: @ckpaxton