Women’s Basketball: Northwestern looks for late run to solidify Big Ten standing
February 23, 2017
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The first 14 games of the conference season have done little to settle Northwestern’s place in the Big Ten. That makes the last two contests particularly important.
With the Big Ten Tournament only a week away, the Wildcats (18-9, 7-7 Big Ten) sit among a jumble of six teams jockeying for a high placing and preferential seeding. Thursday’s home finale against Rutgers (6-21, 3-11) and Sunday’s matchup at Purdue (17-11, 8-6) will determine whether NU earns a coveted double-bye in the conference tournament, drops as low as 10th or finishes somewhere in the middle.
Despite the muddle, senior guard Ashley Deary said the Cats are unconcerned with other results.
“We just have to focus one game at a time and take care of business and let the rest of it fall into place,” Deary said. “Lots of teams are up in the middle right now. All we can control is what we do and be concerned about what is going on here.”
Given the Scarlet Knights’ struggles — they have lost eight-straight games and fell to NU in late January — the Cats have a prime opportunity to push up in the standings. The winnable contest comes on the heels of NU’s win over Illinois, which snapped a four-game skid.
The Cats won by only 13, and the Fighting Illini came within 8 early in the fourth quarter, but continued to show an ability to top the Big Ten’s cellar dwellers.
Coach Joe McKeown said NU needs to be sharp and focused mentally for that to continue.
“The main thing is going to be playing well, in sync with the scouting report, in sync with people playing multiple positions, (which) we’ve had to do because of injury,” McKeown said. “Just understanding roles as we go forward is going to be really important for us.”
The Cats’ losing streak, which included an unsavory home defeat to Penn State and a historically ugly loss at Indiana, knocked them from the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble to a team with only the faintest hopes for a tournament berth. NU likely needs a miraculous late-season recovery, complete with a signature win over a top-12 team like Maryland or Ohio State and help from other teams to revive its NCAA chances.
Nonetheless, senior forward Nia Coffey said the team’s best avenue for success is to be unconcerned with the future.
“We’re just trying to focus on taking it as a single game and not look at it too big picture so we don’t get distracted,” Coffey said. “We’re finishing our season right now, but we’re trying to stay focused on (Rutgers) right now.”
Recent history shows a miraculous run is possible for the Cats, who — as the No. 12 seed — won three games in three days at the Big Ten Tournament last year. With a decorated senior class and postseason possibilities still unsettled, McKeown said his team is primed for one more late-season push.
“We have a lot out there for us,” McKeown said. “They’ve proven they can step up in March, and that’s every team’s goal. It’s been a little crazy, no question, but we’re showing some resilience and some toughness, and that’s what it’s going to take to compete.”