Women’s Basketball: Northwestern snaps losing streak with 87-64 victory over Chicago State


Ziye Wang/The Daily Northwestern

Freshman guard Caroline Lau dribbles against Chicago State defenders. The Connecticut native tallied a career-high 20 points against the Cougars on Wednesday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

Northwestern stared down the gauntlet of five ranked conference matchups since its return from winter break, when Coach Joe McKeown’s squad saw eight consecutive conference losses. However, a rescheduled non-conference bout against Chicago State offered respite from a grueling Big Ten schedule.

The Wildcats (7-13, 0-9 Big Ten) overcame their rough patch Wednesday, trouncing the Cougars (1-21) 87-64.

To offset the long season’s toll, McKeown retooled his typical starting lineup, granting freshman guard Caroline Lau her second career start in place of inactive graduate student guard Sydney Wood. Lau passed the ball to sophomore forward Caleigh Walsh, who scored NU’s first points. Immediately after the bucket, Lau stole the ball in transition and scored in the paint to double the Cats’ lead at 4-0.

After four minutes of play, Chicago State finally got on the board with two converted free throws, but Lau answered back with a triple and an assist to help NU gain a double-digit advantage. But the Cougars refused to back down, knocking down back-to-back three pointers and drawing offensive fouls on ensuing possessions to bring the game within six points at the first quarter’s close.

“Chicago State came ready to play,” McKeown said. “(The Cougars) took the ball and really pushed it at us hard. I give them a lot of credit — (they) made some tough shots.”

Lau, who missed the latter stages of the opening frame in foul trouble, picked up right where she left off with a three-pointer to kickstart the second quarter. But the Cats cooled off as the period ran on and were held scoreless for over three minutes before junior forward Paige Mott sank a layup. NU converted just 7-of-21 second quarter field goals and entered the intermission up 38-30 against a squad winless in NCAA Division I competition.

While Chicago State opened the second half on a 6-0 run, the shift seemingly awoke two sleeping giants. The Cats’ Mott and Walsh forward duo made every NU point on a 10-1 run that forced Cougar coach Andrea Williams to call a timeout.

The break proved ineffective for Chicago State, and Walsh took command of the contest, giving the Cougars headaches at both ends of the court. The New Jersey native tallied 11 third-quarter points and found Lau for the Cats’ sole triple of the frame before exiting the floor.

“I was disappointed in my first half performance because I had a couple of untimely turnovers and was rushing when I got the ball,”  Walsh said. “I took halftime to mentally gather myself, and I knew what I had to do coming out in the third quarter.”

On the back of a 52.9% field goal clip and 11 converted third-quarter foul shots, NU led 68-45 with 10 minutes to play.

The comfortable advantage gave the Cats an opportunity to mix up the rotation, and McKeown fused a blend of young players — alongside senior guard Kaylah Rainey — who had not seen much game action together. But the experiment was short lived, and NU’s starting frontcourt returned to ensure the victory after Chicago State showed sparks of production.

In a matchup against an undersized and struggling opponent, the Cats took care of business. While the Cougars scored in spurts, a career high 20-point performance from Lau — coupled with Walsh’s 17 points — proved the difference in the two teams.

NU hits the road as it returns to conference play Sunday, taking on Wisconsin in Madison. The Badgers (7-14, 2-7 Big Ten) provide a shot at an elusive first conference victory for the Cats.

“We’ve got to continue,” McKeown said. “Our league is relentless.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:

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

Women’s Basketball: Epstein: Northwestern’s defensive scheme gives No. 21 Illinois all it can handle

Women’s Basketball: Kim: Role players step up in another forgettable loss against No. 2 Ohio State