Women’s Basketball: Coffey’s return helps Northwestern stun No. 16 Florida

Ben Pope, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

This was a crucial week for Northwestern, featuring two matchups against top-20 teams.

Star senior forward Nia Coffey missed the first with an injury, and the Wildcats were routed by No. 20 DePaul last Saturday.

Coffey returned for the second, on Friday against No. 16 Florida (4-1), and dominated in every regard as NU (4-1) earned a statement 73-68 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“The one thing about great players is they make everybody on the court better, and I think that’s what she does,” coach Joe McKeown said. “She draws defenses; she covers people’s mistakes; and she has a great sense of what needs to be done at the time, whether that’s get a rebound, make a defensive stop, make a basket.”

Coffey said she had known for a while that she would return to the lineup against Florida, and she looked rust-free from the opening tip. By night’s end, she had stuffed the stat sheet and recorded 26 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks.

“I usually just have the same mindset of playing hard, and my opportunities were there, and I took advantage of it,” Coffey said.

NU jumped out of the gate by scoring the game’s first seven points unanswered, but Florida quickly climbed back. The two teams traded the lead six times before entering halftime tied at 38-38.

The visiting Gators grabbed the advantage in the third quarter, leading by as much as seven at one point, and held a 62-58 edge with under seven minutes to play. Then the Cats began a run of stifling defense that held Florida to just one more basket until the game’s final 10 seconds.

“They hit five 3s in the first half, and I just thought we got to their shooters (in the fourth quarter), kept them from being able to get to the lane with the ball,” McKeown said. “We didn’t turn it over late in the game, where they could get run-outs to layups, and that was huge.”

The Gators still had a chance to tie it with 1:30 left, but missed a layup, got the rebound and missed again, then got the rebound and missed a third time — all in a dramatic seven-second span that seemed more like seven years.

Florida then conceded a layup at the other end to senior forward Lauren Douglas and never again cut the deficit to a single score.

“Man, we should’ve boxed out,” senior guard Ashley Deary said with a laugh when asked about Florida’s series of failed putbacks. “Just lessons learned — we got lucky that they didn’t make a shot, make us pay for our mistake.”

Deary and Douglas tallied 10 and 9 points, respectively, but did so on a combined 6-for-24 shooting.

Freshman center Abi Scheid was effective off the bench, scoring 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting and grabbing four offensive boards, as the Cats dealt with the absence of senior guard and usual starter Christen Inman.

The win, NU’s first over a ranked team since toppling No. 5 Ohio State last January, opens a four-game homestand with a statement performance. It’s one the Cats hope will set the tone for the rest of the non-conference schedule, which gets significantly easier from here — and one they hope won’t be as fleeting as that win over the Buckeyes last season, which directly preceded a five-game losing streak.

“I’m just proud of my team, the way we bounced back after the DePaul game,” McKeown said. “It was just a really good atmosphere against a really good team. I just loved the way we closed the game out more than anything else — showed a lot of heart, lot of fight and made really good decisions when we had to.”

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