Rapid Recap: Illinois 85, Northwestern 79


Daily file photo by Eugenia Cao

Graduate guard Sydney Wood looks to make a pass. Wood poured in 19 points against Illinois Thursday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern had gotten the better of its in-state rival Illinois in 14 consecutive contests before entering Thursday’s game. But that impressive streak came to a screeching halt as the Wildcats (6-8, 0-4 Big Ten) dropped a 85-79 loss to the Fighting Illini (14-2, 4-1 Big Ten) on the road.  

NU started the matchup ice cold from the field. The Cats missed their first six shots before sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh spun her way to a layup. Illinois looked far more comfortable on its home court, amassing an early 12-point lead. But, a 6-0 run kept NU in the contest, and the Fighting Illini led 20-14 after 10 minutes of action.

The Cats brought the game within one possession to open up the second quarter with a deep three converted by freshman guard Caroline Lau. Just when NU appeared in control of momentum, Illinois kept coach Joe McKeown’s team at a comfortable distance with an 8-0 run. Sophomore forward Brynn Shoup-Hill put on a three-point-clinic, and her four first half triples led the Fighting Illini to a 45-27 lead at the half.

The Cats looked to chip away at the lead in the third quarter, and did just that, clawing their way back within eight points on the back of a 7-0 run. Graduate student guard Sydney Wood knocked down a late three pointer, and NU trailed 63-56 entering the final period.

The Cats continued to fight back, clawing within two points midway through the final quarter, despite having trailed by as much as 19. The Fighting Illini survived the late NU surge and defeated the Cats at home.

Here are three takeaways from NU’s loss in Champaign.


  1. The Cats had their hands full defensively in order to shut down a high scoring Illinois offense

Illinois’ coach Shauna Green’s squad entered Thursday’s contest riding high off a New Year’s Day upset over then-No.12 Iowa. The Fighting Illini, who received their first top-25 votes since 2013, won their previous six contests and entered the in-state rivalry match with a chip on their shoulders.

Prior to the faceoff, Illinois was ranked first in the nation’s three-point shooting team at 42%, averaging a 21.5 point margin of victory prior to facing off with NU. 

With a high-octane and efficient shooting opponent looking to become ranked for the first time in 22 years, McKeown’s team needed its best performance to stand a chance in the contest. 

    2.  The Wildcats’ first-half perimeter defense lacked tenacity 

Sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten in three point percentage, the last thing the Cats needed was to turn the contest into a shootout against the nation’s premier three point shooters.

The Fighting Illini caught fire from three in the second quarter, and went 8-for-16 from three in the first half. NU converted threes at a 2-for-10 clip in the first two quarters, and this discrepancy played a huge role in an 18 point halftime deficit.

While the Cats clawed back in a third quarter push where they outscored Illinois by 11 points, failing to close out on perimeter shooters left the squad unable to complete the improbable comeback.

   3. NU showed great resilience 

The Cats entered the second half down by 18 points, and the contest looked to be another blowout at the hands of a Power-Five opponent. 

But NU turned the tide of the game in the third quarter, and the Fighting Illini looked outmatched in the period. Despite poor shooting from three, the Cats found their stride in the second half and a once 19 point deficit was down to just seven entering the fourth quarter. 

NU went on a 7-0 run midway through the final period, and the contest was back within two. 

Although their efforts proved to be too little too late, the Cats played their best two quarters of the season in the second half and must build upon their performance against No. 6 Indiana on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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