Women’s Basketball: Epstein: Northwestern shows flashes of offensive success but lacks a complete performance in sixth straight loss


Daily file photo by Wendy Huang

Senior guard Kaylah Rainey advances the ball upcourt. The Illinois native scored a career high 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting against Purdue.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern vied for its first victory of the new year in a home matchup with Purdue. The task proved too tall, however, as the Wildcats (6-11, 0-7 Big Ten) piled onto an ice-cold January with a 65-54 loss to the Boilermakers (12-5, 3-4 Big Ten).

NU converted on 4-of-10 field goals in the opening frame, but coach Joe McKeown’s squad shot itself in the foot with nine first-quarter turnovers. The Cats’ defense held Purdue to a 35.7% shooting clip, but the Boilermakers still held a slim 12-9 lead after 10 minutes.

Turnovers continued to plague NU early in the second quarter. After just over two minutes of action, the Cats coughed the ball up five times amid a 6:17 scoring drought.

“We’ve got to be a much better ball-control team,” McKeown said.

While NU appeared to be doomed to another double-digit halftime deficit, graduate student guard Sydney Wood lit a spark with a driving layup off a brilliant move inside the paint. A minute later, sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh pulled up for her first three points of the game. She then grabbed a defensive rebound and sank her second straight jumper from beyond the arc.

Purdue coach Katie Gearlds immediately called a timeout, but senior guard Kaylah Rainey drilled her second three-pointer of the game on NU’s ensuing offensive possession.

“I was feeling it (and) feeling very confident,” Rainey said. “My teammates trust me to make that shot — I was open — and I’m glad I was hitting it today.”

After trailing by 14 points, the Cats clawed to within three as the first half closed at 30-27 on the back of a 9-0 NU run.

The Cats could not have asked for a better start to the second half, as Rainey collected a steal and fed freshman guard Caroline Lau inside for a layup. McKeown’s small-ball lineup had the Boilermakers on their heels and knotted the game at 30 apiece. After a minute of end-to-end action, Rainey converted a tough three-point play, and NU found itself in front 36-35.

“We made a great run in the second quarter, and (I thought) we started the third quarter well,” McKeown said. “We turned them over — scored — and just hit some big shots.”

Despite a double-digit lead vanishing before her eyes, Purdue guard Abbey Ellis took control of the game’s momentum. The Aussie scored 12 of her game-high 24 points in the third quarter and helped put the Boilermakers up 49-43 with 10 minutes to play.

For a team trying to mount a final-quarter comeback, shooting 3-of-13 from the field is far from ideal. Neither team managed to convert at least 25% of its fourth-quarter field goals, and the Cats gave away possession on four more occasions, bringing their turnover tally to 25. NU missed all six of its three-point attempts in the final frame and dropped its sixth consecutive game, exacerbating the worst Big Ten start of the McKeown era.

“We could have definitely executed a lot better,” Wood said. “People were open, and we didn’t execute with our passes.”

The Cats’ loss highlights a running theme of the season thus far: they put up a fight and dictated the tempo in spurts, but they failed to execute for all 40 minutes. NU lost the rebounding battle 40-30, allowed a costly 20 points off turnovers and was rattled by the persistent Purdue press.

These issues must be addressed, especially with No.3 Ohio State (18-0, 7-0 Big Ten) up next. The Cats fell flat at home in an 81-48 loss to the Buckeyes last month, and Ohio State continues to roll through conference play.

“I know I didn’t take care of the ball as well as I should’ve tonight,” Rainey said. “As a team collectively, you need to take care of the ball and match (Ohio State’s) energy — or beat their energy — to start off the game.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:

Women’s Basketball: Kim: The Wildcats need to consider tweaking their lineups to improve offensively

Women’s Basketball: Northwestern faces Iowa’s offensive onslaught as losing streak extends to five

Women’s Basketball: Northwestern loses fourth game in a row, fall to last in Big Ten rankings