Lauren Douglas broke a maddening trend Thursday, finally attacking the basket and opening the floor for Northwestern’s women’s basketball team. Yet the season-long trend of slow starts for the Wildcats continued.
Despite a late-game push and 14 points from the freshman Douglas, Northwestern fell 55-50 to Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena, dropping to 11-12 and just 3-7 in Big Ten play.
In a defense-dominated game, the 'Cats combined for seven blocks and 29 defensive rebounds, holding Nebraska’s field goal shooting percentage to just 33 percent. The Huskers pressed full-court for most of the game and also played aggressive defense.
“We expected it,” freshman forward Maggie Lyon said after the game. “We knew that was their game plan.”
Even so, the Wildcats struggled early in the first half with their ball handling, allowing three Nebraska steals and committing six turnovers. Problems not caused by turnovers were the result of poor shot selection. Northwestern only shot 21.9 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from behind the 3-point line in the first half. Still, they kept things to a close 25-17.
Heading into the locker room at the half, head coach Joe McKeown augmented pressure defense. But Northwestern fell into its usual trap and started the second half sluggish. The defense allowed Nebraska’s junior forward Jordan Hooper to nearly double her point total from the first half, as she scored 12 in the second half and finished with 19.
Senior Kendall Hackney and sophomore point guard Karly Roser picked up their play in the second, yet Northwestern could not overcome the deficit. Senior center Dannielle Diamant dominated the boards, leading all players in total rebounds in the second half with 11.
In the last 20 minutes, NU outscored Nebraska 33-30. At no point during the game did the Wildcats ever take the lead, a problem they’ve been having all season.
But standout individual performances elicited praise from McKeown, despite the final score.
“I thought [Douglas] was terrific,” he said. “She was aggressive. I thought tonight was one of her best games and we’re seeing great progress.”
The freshman acknowledged that Thursday was an encouraging sign of development.
“I think I just attacked the basket well,” Douglas said. “When people scout us, they know we have some good shooters so that opened the floor.” The game’s last shot was taken by Roser, who made a smooth cut to the lane and converted an easy lay-in.
“She’s playing like one of the top point guards in the Big Ten,” McKeown said of the sophomore.
The loss put Northwestern in a hole, as the 'Cats are now 10th in the conference. But for McKeown, this isn’t a cause for panic, noting that roster depth and consistency will come in time.
Echoing her coach’s advice, Douglas added, “We have to play 40 minutes hard.”
If those 40 minutes look anything like Northwestern's second half, McKeown and company will be just fine. If the Wildcats continue to start slow, however, 3-7 in the Big Ten will look a whole lot worse.