[UPDATE: Morgan Jones got named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for her performances against LSU and DePaul. Against LSU, Jones nearly got a double double, with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Two of those points were clutch free throws with 11 seconds left to give NU the 45-44 upset. Against the Blue Demons, as noted below, she scored a career-high 17 points. Jones' award is the second Freshman of the Week honor collected by the team this year; Karly Roser earned the nod the week prior.]
Against an opponent quicker and more athletic, the Wildcats were in this game for the first 37 minutes. But ultimately, NU got caught in a track meet that it could not keep up in, falling to the hot-shooting Blue Demons, 88-72, in a game much closer than the final margin.
The Wildcats (4-1) made DePaul (5-1) work for it, as the second half went back and forth, and every time NU would tie the score or come close, DePaul would answer with a big basket. NU closed to within 49-47 with 14:37 left, then got to within 51-50, then tied it at 58-58, then 60-60, then 62-62 with 8:30 left. After a brief DePaul run, the Wildcats cut it to a four-point deficit, 74-70, with 3:36 remaining, but NU was unable to get any closer, with the Blue Demons going on a 9-0 run.
Valiant effort by our Wildcats against their second-straight top-25 opponent, and a split of the two is a solid accomplishment. Dannielle Diamant had a stellar first half, scoring 15 points to keep NU in the game, but she picked up her fourth foul just 4:30 into the second half on a silly moving screen and finished with 19 points. Freshman Morgan Jones had a career-high 17 points and 7 rebounds, and Brittany Orban had 16 points and 7 rebounds, all of them offensive boards. Ironwoman Orban, who apparently runs triathlons in the offseason, also had her second consecutive game playing all 40 minutes.
Still a lot for the WIldcats to improve on. This was the second game in a row that a more athletic opponent harassed NU with a full-court press, and the WIldcats again struggled, turning the ball over 19 times, though that's a slight improvement from the 23 turnovers they had in the win against LSU. Diamant had 7 of those turnovers against DePaul, including two costly ones in the last 4:32 of the game, while Jones had 6 turnovers.
Defensively, NU gave DePaul way too much space on the perimeter, and the Blue Demons took advantage, hitting 12 of 25 three-point shots. DePaul's three-point prowess was no secret coming into the game, as they rank second in the nation in made treys per game, but the Wildcats failed to pay attention to the scouting report and left the DePaul shooters open time and time again. Overall, DePaul shot 46% from the field and was led by Keisha Hampton's career-high 32 points.
Still no sign of the injured Anna Cole for the WIldcats, who were hoping she'd be able to play this past week. NU could really use her presence on the inside, especially in a game like today, when Diamant got into foul trouble. With freshman Alex Cohen still getting acclimated to the college game (she got token minutes today), NU went with a four-guard lineup against DePaul whenever Diamant was on the bench, with the 6'2" Kendall Hackney in the post. While Hackney is athletic and arguably NU's best all-around player, she'll be undersized at center against Big Ten competition. Hopefully the 6'7" Cole will heal up in short order.
Up next for the Wildcats is a home game Wednesday against North Carolina State, another hot three-point shooting team, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolfpack (4-1), who shoot 36% from three, also dropped their first game of the season today, a 74-67 loss at Creighton.
In other Wildcat news, the volleyball team did not qualify for the NCAA tournament but closed out its season with a bang, upsetting No. 2 Nebraska on Saturday, 3-1 (25-20, 9-25, 25-21, 25-23). This was NU's first win in 11 matches against the powerhouse Cornhuskers; the WIldcats hadn't even won a set against the other NU ever.
Freshman hitter Yewande Akanbi had a career-high 20 kills to lead all players, while sophomore Stephanie Holtus had 19 kills and 16 digs. Freshman defensive specialist Caroline Niedospial had a career-high 18 digs.
The Wildcats finish the season 16-15 overall, 7-13 in the Big Ten, with three victories for top-25 squads. The Big Ten sent a nation-high 8 teams to the NCAA tournament, including the 2nd-seeded Cornhuskers, 3rd-seeded Illinois, 5th-seeded Purdue, 8th-seeded Penn State, and 13th-seeded Minnesota.