If there's any upside from Northwestern women's basketball's Wednesday night 73-54 home loss to Penn State (10-16, 5-10 B1G), it's that there may be no direction to go but up for the slumping Wildcats (14-13, 3-12 B1G).
Just three days removed from an emotional near-complete comeback against the No. 5 Maryland Terrapins, it's possible the 'Cats were doomed for a letdown game against the Nittany Lions, who proved to be much more of a challenge for NU than their underwhelming record let on.
Despite the final score, it was close for much of the first quarter, and even though PSU grabbed a six-point lead on a couple of occasions, an Ashley Deary three-pointer with 1:28 remaining in the period cut the NU deficit to 17-14. That was as close as NU would get, as PSU closed the quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 25-14 lead. Lindsey Spann led the way for the Nittany Lions in the first quarter, making all four of her three-point attempts on her way to a game-leading 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
The second quarter was more of the same for the Nittany Lions, who held the Wildcats to just six points in the quarter. PSU doubled up the 'Cats on two occasions and eventually took a 41-20 lead to the locker room. NU made just three shots in the quarter, and at point was held scoreless for almost six minutes during an 11-0 Penn State run.
Northwestern, true to form, gave the Nittany Lions a bit of their own medicine to start the second half, cutting the lead to 15 with four minutes into the third quarter. But Penn State was relentless, going on a 13-5 extended run over the remainder of the quarter and taking a 24-point lead, their largest of the game. They led by that same margin, 61-37, at the end of the third.
The final quarter of play was essentially ten minutes of garbage time. NU was unable to cut into the lead all that much and Penn State simply ran out the clock on a 19-point win, clinching a regular season sweep of the Wildcats.
Although Deary was unable to keep pace with her season average of over four steals per game, her two tonight put her 12 away from breaking the conference single-season record. Maggie Lyon, oddly enough, made six steals and finished with 13 points, just one shy of tying Nia Coffey for the team lead of 14 points.
The upperclassmen stars were the only two 'Cats in double figures, as NU shot just 38.6 percent from the field. PSU, on the other hand, was lights out, shooting 53.8% from the field, including a scalding 7-for-11 (63.6 percent) from three-point range.
Clinching a record above .500 should be considered a success for the 'Cats at this point, but they will need to win two of their remaining three regular season games to achieve that. Their next opportunity to end the season on a positive note will come on Saturday, when NU travels to Madison to take on Wisconsin. The Badgers are even with the 'Cats in the conference standings with a B1G record of 3-12.