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Women’s Basketball: Wildcats keep on winning, advance to Big Ten Tournament semifinals

Christen+Inman+dribbles+around+a+defender.+The+junior+guard+scored+14+of+her+18+points+in+the+fourth+quarter%2C+helping+NU+clinch+the+quarterfinal+game+against+Indiana.+
Christen Inman dribbles around a defender. The junior guard scored 14 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping NU clinch the quarterfinal game against Indiana.

Christen Inman dribbles around a defender. The junior guard scored 14 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping NU clinch the quarterfinal game against Indiana.

Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Christen Inman dribbles around a defender. The junior guard scored 14 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, helping NU clinch the quarterfinal game against Indiana.

Will Ragatz, Reporter

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Women’s Basketball


INDIANAPOLIS — The cinderella run continues. After a 4-14 record in conference games, Northwestern is two wins away from a Big Ten Tournament championship.

Junior forward Nia Coffey dominated to the tune of 26 points and 11 rebounds and NU hit big shots down the stretch in a 79-73 quarterfinal victory over Indiana on Friday. Sophomore Amanda Cahill led Indiana with 23 points and 13 boards and sophomore Tyra Buss added 16 for the No. 4 seed Hoosiers (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten), but it wasn’t enough to stop the No. 12 Wildcats (18-15, 4-14) from advancing to the semifinals with their third win in as many days.

Junior guard Christen Inman chipped in 18 points for NU and junior guard Ashley Deary put up a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.

“In these tournaments, you really just need to win by one, and I thought we did a great job defensively in the second half,” said coach Joe McKeown. “Nia (Coffey) and Christen (Inman) offensively were able to get shots that we wanted and took over the game.”

It was Inman who clinched the contest for NU, but the team wouldn’t have been in position to pull away late in the game without Coffey’s performance early on.

In the Cats’ toughest matchup of the tournament, their best player put up one of her best first halves of the season. Coffey scored 8 points in the first quarter, and followed that up with 11 more in the second, adding 7 rebounds and 3 thunderous blocks in the half.

“(Coffey’s) scoring was nice, but the blocking was even better,” junior forward Allie Tuttle said about her fellow frontcourt player’s performance. “I was behind every time she did it, and I was like ‘Oh my god! That’s amazing!’ It was incredible. She really put the team on her back today.”

With 19 points at halftime, Coffey was the only player for either team with more than 10. No other NU player had more than 4.

However, Coffey said scoring wasn’t her primary focus early on.

“I was trying to focus on our defense and rebounding, those were my two main concerns and I felt like, offense, it will come,” Coffey said. “I just want to make sure that I always have an aggressive mindset and that’s what I did.”

The Cats played solid defense against Indiana’s top two scorers in the first half. Buss and Cahill combined for 19 points in the first 20 minutes, but shot just 7-for-23 as a duo.

That defensive effort didn’t stop at halftime, as Indiana’s two best players combined for just seven makes in the second half as well. Buss especially struggled against NU’s defense, finishing 4-of-18 from the field with four turnovers.

“We just wanted to make sure we contained (Buss), because she can do it all,” Coffey said. “We just had to make sure to … make every shot, every take hard so she didn’t get any easy looks.”

For a few minutes in the second quarter, it seemed as if Buss might have been knocked out of the game. With a little more than 4 minutes until the break, Buss drove to the hoop for a layup and was blocked emphatically by Coffey. Buss fell hard and remained on the court for a little while, then was helped back to the Hoosiers’ bench while clutching her shoulder.

Somehow, Indiana’s All-Big Ten First Team guard checked back in less than a minute later.

Despite Coffey’s efforts, the score was tied at 35 at halftime. NU needed somebody else to step up, and in the third quarter, Tuttle and freshman guard Jordan Hankins came off the bench to do just that.

“The energy all around on this team has been really good lately,” Tuttle said. “We’re trying to get people in and out more so we can save our legs, because we intend to be here until Sunday.”

Tuttle gave NU big minutes down low in the quarter, scoring 4 of her 7 points. Hankins, who has enjoyed a coming out party in the Big Ten Tournament, scored 5 of her 8 points in the third period while Inman sat with three fouls.

But Inman returned with a vengeance in the fourth and took over down the stretch, scoring 14 points in the final quarter on a barrage of layups and pull-up midrange jumpers. Cahill did her best to keep Indiana in the game, but Inman refused to let the Cats lose.

“I was really just trying to be aggressive and just look for my shot, and they started falling in the fourth quarter,” Inman said. “And once one or two fall, it just becomes easier to keep taking ’em and keep making ’em.”

Northwestern will take on the No. 1 seed, Maryland, in the semifinals Saturday.

“We’re dangerous,” McKeown said. “I mean, we can score. We just have to be able to defend.”

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Twitter: @WillRagatz

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