Women’s Basketball: Northwestern’s late game near-comeback masks poor defensive performance


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Veronica Burton surveys the floor. The Wildcats conceded 10 threes Thursday.

Ryan Wangman, Audio Editor

Women’s Basketball

Make no mistake: Though the box score will show Northwestern making a miracle fourth-quarter comeback that brought the game to within three points, the Wildcats had absolutely no business being in the game to begin with.

NU (15-12, 8-8 Big Ten) struggled defensively for the first three quarters, giving up 20 points in each of those periods. In a 71-64 win for Nebraska, the Cornhuskers (13-14, 8-8) finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field, a mark only one other opponent had hit against the Cats all season.

The team was without a key contributor, as sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton missed the contest following a gruesome ankle injury in Sunday’s loss against Purdue. Senior center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah picked up some of the offensive slack with Hamilton out, pacing NU with 19 points.

“Jordan is a huge, huge part of this team and having her get hurt last game was definitely something that impacted us,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. “We’re eagerly awaiting her return so we’re really happy that, you know, people were able to step up this game, and we’re hoping that she (comes) back soon.”

With Hamilton out, freshman guard Sydney Wood earned the second start of her career. Wood had limited impact offensively, scoring just 3 points and collecting three boards in 31 minutes of action.

Coach Joe McKeown said Wood got the starting nod after an “exceptional” defensive game in the team’s previous matchup against Nebraska. He praised her ability to play both ends of the floor and said she’s not an ordinary freshman in that she’s played a lot of basketball at a high level.

“She did good,” McKeown said. “With Sydney, you know you’re always going to get 100 percent. She’s still learning, but she’s smart. She’s tough. So, you know, I think all these games help her as a freshman as you move into, you know, later in the season.”

Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who recorded her milestone 1,000th career rebound in the game, said the team has struggled recently guarding teams from beyond the arc. Going forward, Kunaiyi-Akpanah stressed that the team needs to do a better job of stopping opposing shooters and not digging themselves into a first-half hole.

“We just have to really key in on defense and follow the game plan,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. “Like last time we played (Nebraska) and we limited their 3-point shooters and this game we weren’t able to do that as much.”

Slow rotations led to wide-open Cornhusker shots and doomed the Cats’ usually stringent defense, as seen in two plays from the game below.

At the beginning of this replay, Nebraska guard Sam Haiby has the ball in the corner as she surveys the court. Not one, but three NU defenders shift over to guard her, leaving Nebraska guard Taylor Kissinger wide open from three. Freshman guard Veronica Burton spots this, jumping up and down from her spot on the bench and pointing, but is forced to watch helplessly as Haiby zips a pass to Kissinger, who drains the three with ease.

In the second half, the Cornhuskers ran a near mirror play with the same result. Haiby drives with the ball from the top of the key, as Burton and Wood converge to block her lane to the basket. The problem is as sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam shifts up to stop Kissinger, Nebraska guard Hannah Whitish makes a crisp cut to the vacated space in the corner. Whitish gets a quick pass from Haiby, and junior center Abbie Wolf has no chance to block the three.

Nebraska shot 10-for-18 from downtown tonight, and the Cats allowed 12 3-pointers against Purdue in a Sunday loss.

“We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles and we just gotta keep playing,” McKeown said. “Our Achilles right now is we gave up 10 threes and gave up 12 at Purdue on Sunday in a game that again, in that case, came down to the buzzer. So, you know, we gotta do a better job.”

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