Northwestern women's basketball: In it to win it

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern Wildcats enter the Big Ten Tournament today, needing four wins in four days to reach the NCAAs.

Northwestern is the #9 seed in the conference tourney, meaning they'll face #8 Ohio State in the first round, which tips off at 11 a.m. CT on the BTN. Winner advances to take on #1 seed Penn State. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

It has been a less-than-upworthy second half of the season for our Wildcats, salvaged by a regular-season-ending win over Wisconsin that guarantees them at least a .500 record and likely secured a spot in the women's NIT. After racing out to a very promising 14-7 (4-4 Big Ten) start that included wins over three ranked teams, earning some votes in the AP Top 25 at one point, the Wildcats had the wheels fall off, going 0-for-February and losing seven straight games, before Sunday's OT win against Wisconsin.

Almost all of those losses were close losses, though, as Northwestern seemed to be able to play well for about 38 minutes before displaying a Fitzian inability to close the deal.

Fortunately, the Wildcats sit at No. 97 in RPI, according to realtimerpi.com, which means they're likely to qualify for the 64-team WNIT field for the third time in head coach Joe McKeown's tenure, even if they do lose against Ohio State today. A first-round win would definitely book their ticket to the WNIT and maybe even earn them a home game.

But we'll talk about the WNIT when it's time, as the NCAA Tournament is still in play. The Wildcats last made it to the NCAAs in 1997. With a 16-14 record, the Wildcat's aren't going to be selected on their resume, so it's going to have to be four wins in four days, if they're going to do it. NU has never won the Big Ten Tournament since it began in 1995, but hey, no time like the present, amirite?

I mean, this is a team that starts three freshmen, so it's not like they're burdened by history.

One of those freshmen, Nia Coffey, earned First Team All-Big Ten honors this past week, as selected by the coaches. The dastardly media put her on the Second Team. Coffey was an absolute force for the Wildcats, leading the team in points (15.2 ppg) and rebounds (8.1 rpg). She also chipped in 1.8 blocks per game. The best part is that she'll be at NU for three more years.

Three-point sharpshooter sophomore Maggie Lyon, last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, got Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors this year from both the coaches and media, while fellow sophomore Lauren Douglas, a hardnosed defender with a knack for scoring big baskets, was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches. Freshman point guard Ashley Deary, who in my eyes is the most entertaining player to watch on the team for her quickness and heady play, got Honorable Mention All-Big Ten from the media.

So, to sum up, we've got a young team with a very bright future that seemed to hit a wall in the second half of the conference season, but hopefully they'll find new legs in the postseason.

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