Women’s Basketball: Northwestern looks for signature win at cross-town rival DePaul


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Oceana Hamilton battles in the post. The junior center has started all three games for the Wildcats this season ahead of Saturday’s showdown with No. 20 DePaul.

Cole Paxton, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

Saturday is 114 days from Selection Monday, when the NCAA Tournament bracket will be released, but what Northwestern does this weekend could have big implications in March.

After taking down three unheralded foes to begin the season, the Wildcats (3-0) will make the short trip to No. 20 DePaul (2-0) in search of a standout win that could shine brightly on NU’s resume during tournament deliberations.

“It adds validity to our schedule, just being able to compete with some of the best players in the nation,” senior guard Ashley Deary said. “We’re excited for the challenge. It will show us just how great we can be.”

Just two of the Cats’ 13 non-conference games are against ranked teams, making Saturday’s contest a rare opportunity for NU to make a statement before Big Ten play begins in late December.

To spring an upset, the Cats will likely need to be at full strength. Still unclear, however, is the status of star forward Nia Coffey, who missed Wednesday’s win over Missouri State and is officially day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Coach Joe McKeown did not have an update on Coffey’s condition before practice Thursday afternoon, but confirmed that the injury was not serious.

“She’s doing great,” McKeown said. “(It’s) short term.”

Whether Coffey plays or not, the game could be the latest chapter in a string of competitive matchups between NU and the Blue Demons. The Cats upset DePaul with a late rally in 2013, then escaped with a double-overtime road win a year later.

Last year, the Blue Demons halted NU’s 10-0 start with a 77-64 win in Evanston. A fourth quarter run allowed DePaul to build a deceptive final margin in what McKeown said this week was a “really good game.”

“It’s become a really good rivalry,” McKeown said. “It wasn’t like that before I got here because we’d never beaten them. (They’re) fun games too, a lot of respect among both programs.”

The Blue Demons will offer a solid step up in competition for the Cats. DePaul returns three starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team, was picked as Big East co-favorite, and has the conference’s preseason player of the year in guard Jessica January.

McKeown said he expects to see full-court pressure from the Blue Demons. The coach added that DePaul moves the ball extremely well and presents a difficult defensive challenge that will test the Cats’ discipline.

“They definitely like to speed the game up and pressure us,” Deary said. “The biggest thing is being disciplined on defense … and taking smart shots.”

With a win Saturday, the Cats could raise some eyebrows nationally and earn a handful of votes in next week’s polls. Despite those possibilities, McKeown said his primary focus was on his own team and the nature of the rivalry.

“It’s a fun game because it’s a city rivalry, two teams the last couple of years (that) have had great success,” McKeown said. “That’s what’s fun about it to me.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ckpaxton