Women’s Basketball: Nia Coffey leads senior charge in Northwestern’s Big Ten Tournament opener
March 3, 2017
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INDIANAPOLIS — Nia Coffey did the lion’s share of the work. Her teammates finished the deal.
The 6-foot-1 forward scored a season-high 34 points to lead Northwestern to the brink of victory Thursday. Then, her fellow seniors made the necessary plays down the stretch to help the Wildcats (20-10, 8-8 Big Ten) top Iowa (17-13, 8-8) 78-73 in their Big Ten Tournament opener.
“They want to go out on top,” coach Joe McKeown said of his seniors. “They want to prove whatever there is to prove.”
Against the Hawkeyes, it all started with Coffey. She shot a ridiculous 15-of-26 from the floor and exploded for 15 points in the second quarter to push NU to a 9-point halftime edge. From start to finish, the forward did most of her damage inside — she did not hit a 3-pointer and attempted only five free throws.
Still, Coffey was effective in a variety of ways, hitting jumpers and layups with ease.
“She got in a real rhythm in our zone. We couldn’t find her,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “(Then) we went almost (man-to-man) exclusively … and we didn’t really have an answer for her.”
The outing was only Coffey’s latest showstopper against the Hawkeyes. She scored a career-high 35 points in a 102-99 loss to Iowa two seasons ago and tallied 20 points and 14 rebounds last season.
Coffey was slowed somewhat In the second half. Hampered by foul trouble, she scored only 5 points in the final period as Iowa charged and briefly took the lead.
That’s when Coffey got some help from familiar sources. She and NU’s other standout seniors combined to score the last 10 points as the Cats came back from a 1-point deficit to retake the lead and ice the game down the stretch.
Christen Inman’s jumper with 3:30 remaining came as part of a quiet 11-point outing and returned NU to the lead for good. Lauren Douglas and Ashley Deary then went a perfect 6-of-6 at the line in the final 15 seconds.
The consistency at the line was a pleasant surprise for the Cats, who have been “streaky” at the stripe, McKeown said. Though NU is fifth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage, the Cats have had a handful of poor outings at the line, like a 5-of-12 effort at Michigan. Still, the coach said he was confident in his seniors in crunch time.
“I like us at the line,” McKeown said. “I feel like they’re going to hit them in that situation.”
It was an impressive win for NU, which has struggled as of late and endured a trying season. With the Cats’ seniors leading the way to one of their final wins, McKeown lauded them.
“They’re going to walk out of here and be like, “Hey, we did this the right way,” McKeown said. “They’ve just had special careers here and they don’t want it to end.”