Women’s Basketball: Northwestern upsets Iowa, moves on in Big Ten Tournament


Allie Goulding/The Daily Northwestern

Nia Coffey attempts a layup. The senior put on an 34-point showstopper in Northwestern’s Big Ten Tournament win over Iowa.

Cole Paxton, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern didn’t enter the Big Ten Tournament with much going for it. The Wildcats struggled through February, lost their finale on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater and fell to Iowa by 19 in their lone regular-season meeting.

Against the Hawkeyes on Thursday, Nia Coffey changed that quickly.

The star senior forward put NU (20-10, 8-8 Big Ten) on her back, scoring a season-high 34 points and willing the Cats to an 78-73 win over Iowa (17-13, 8-8) in the Big Ten Tournament.

“She’s amazing,” fellow senior Lauren Douglas said. “I love playing with her. She makes everybody else’s job easier.”

The win was NU’s first away from home in over a month and gives the Cats a Friday matchup with top-seeded Ohio State.

The Cats charged back from a brief fourth quarter deficit, getting a clutch layup from Coffey inside the final two minutes. NU made the final moments interesting, turning the ball over once and nearly doing so a second time, but senior guard Ashley Deary and Douglas iced the game with two pairs of free throws.

Douglas, a forward, continued her strong late-season play, adding 15 points, and senior guard Christen Inman contributed 11 more. The Cats shot better than 45 percent, helped by Coffey’s impressive 15-of-26 line, and broke out with their highest scoring output since Jan. 14.

“Not turning the ball over was a really big thing for us,” Deary said. “That made a big difference. We got open looks.”

Still, Coffey was undisputably the star of the show. She scored in a variety of ways, muscling past defenders for layups, knocking down midrange jumpers and getting behind the Iowa defense for easy fast transition buckets. The 6-foot-1 Coffey was unperturbed by 6-foot-3 Hawkeye forward Megan Gustafson, like Coffey a first-team All-Big Ten player.

NU looked like a far different team than in recent games, like Sunday’s 61-59 loss at Purdue in which the Cats struggled to score on several occasions. NU topped 70 points for the first time in 10 contests; tellingly, the Cats scored more points through three quarters Thursday than they did in their 78-59 loss to Iowa last month.

NU made a big statement in the second quarter, scoring 27 points to rebound from a messy first period in which the Cats committed seven turnovers and went scoreless for more than 3 minutes.

“It was really important,” Deary said of focus after the first quarter. “Once we slowed the game down a little bit … and took care of (the ball), good things happened and we scored.”

That changed in a big fashion after the quarter break, as Coffey poured in 15 of NU’s first 17 points of the quarter to help the Cats build a 10-point halftime edge. She had 21 before the break.

The cushion was needed. Iowa managed to slow Coffey in the third quarter and used a 9-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to pull within one possession, then eventually took the lead as NU remained cold.

“They started getting comfortable in their execution. We were letting them get the ball inside too easy,” coach Joe McKeown said. “(I thought), we’ve got to do something different. What we’re doing, it’s going to get us beat.”

It was a brief advantage, however, as the Cats answered with a jumper from Inman with 3:30 to play and never lost the lead, aided by the late free throws from Deary and Douglas.

On Friday, the Cats will face an Ohio State team that is ranked No. 9 and has won 11 straight games. But the two teams have played several classics in recent years, including a thrilling NU win in Evanston last season and another near-upset in January.

“They’ve been great games the last two years,” McKeown said. “They’re capable of scoring. They’ve got a lot of depth, so we have to get some rest today.”

This story was updated at 3:44 p.m. with quotes.

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Twitter: @ckpaxton