Women’s Basketball: Northwestern falls short against No. 21 Illinois in back-and-forth nailbiter


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Graduate student guard Sydney Wood dribbles the ball. Wood was a crucial player for the Wildcats Sunday.

Lucas Kim, Social Media Editor

Just a couple weeks removed from a tight, six-point defeat at the hands of in-state rival Illinois, the Wildcats had a chance at redemption Sunday.

Up by one at halftime, Northwestern (6-13, 0-9 Big Ten) was in a prime position to get revenge and pick up its first conference win of the season. But turnovers and defensive mishaps prevented the Cats from maintaining their lead, allowing the Fighting Illini (16-4, 6-3 Big Ten) to take control and hold on for the narrow 67-64 victory.

“(I’m) just really disappointed, to be honest,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We had a great game plan. Our players executed. In the fourth quarter, even though we outscored them, we just had tough turnovers at the wrong time and they made some big shots.”

No. 21 Illinois entered Sunday as the nation’s third-best three-point shooting team, shooting at a 40.7% clip. As a result, NU’s game plan centered on preventing Illinois from relying on the three-ball. And it worked. 

The Fighting Illini went only 28.6% from beyond the arc, making only four three-pointers the whole match despite averaging almost eight makes per game. On the other hand, the Cats — who rank last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting — shot a season-best of 47.1%.

“We’ve been struggling a little from the three-point line, but we have a lot of people who can really shoot the ball,” graduate student guard Sydney Wood said. “Everybody shot the ball really confidently tonight, and hopefully that’s something we can carry on to the rest of this season.”

After holding Illinois to only 12 points in the second quarter, NU carried a one-point lead going into the half. This was the first time in conference play this season that the Cats have found themselves leading at halftime.

However, it was only a matter of time before the nationally-ranked Fighting Illini began hitting their shots, outscoring NU by seven in the third quarter. 

Facing an eight-point deficit with one and a half minutes left in the game, the Cats narrowed that gap to two points after two back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore guard Jillian Brown and sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh. But an Illinois stepback three and a few free throw points put the game out of reach.

For the second game in a row, junior forward Paige Mott led the team in scoring — this time with 13 points along with four rebounds. Mott, who scored a career-high 16 points against No. 2 Ohio State on Thursday, is shooting a team-high 54.1% from the field.

“I really credit my teammates for putting me in great positions, passing the ball in great places where it’s just easy for me to score,” Mott said. 

Wood added another all-around performance, putting up 12 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Brown and graduate student forward Courtney Shaw contributed 10 points each.

With half of its Big Ten schedule left to go, NU still has yet to win a conference game, extending its losing streak to eight consecutive games.

Despite the close loss, McKeown still sees hope for the transitioning team.

“We looked like Northwestern over the last couple years today, and I was really proud of that,” McKeown said. “We’ve been up and down. When they made their runs, we came right back. I feel like we can beat anybody.”

The Cats will look to get back on track Wednesday against Chicago State in its last non-conference match of the season. The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 22 but was postponed due to inclement weather.

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