Well so much for going into the Big Ten season with momentum. Northwestern (10-3) dropped a bad one Tuesday night to Toledo, 75-56, to close out the nonconference portion of the schedule. NU has now lost two of its last three after a very promising start.
Adding to the Wildcats' woes was an ankle injury to center Dannielle Diamant. She played just seven minutes before leaving the game, and Chris Emma at Scout.com reported that she left on crutches. No word on when or if she'll be able to return.
Toledo is typically a MAC power and won the WNIT last year, but this is a game the Wildcats should have won. Diamant's absence definitely hurt, as Toledo's two centers combined to go 16-for-22 from the floor for 35 points. The Rockets also outrebounded NU 44-29 and got 12 second-chance points to NU's zero. In Diamant's absence, coach Joe McKeown went with Kendall Hackney in the post, spelled by Alex Cohen. As the stats show, neither fared well defensively.
But the rest of the team's defensive performance was also nothing to write home about. Toledo easily broke NU's three-quarter trap time and time again. The Wildcats especially wore down in the second half, when Toledo shot 63% from the field.
NU trailed 29-25 at halftime after a choppy 20 minutes (or maybe the choppiness was the crappy online stream), then came out sloppy to start the second half. McKeown is always demonstrative on the sideline, but he and assistant coach Ali Jacques absolutely lit into the team during a timeout with 16:28 left. It didn't really help, as Toledo would extend its lead to 38-27. The teams traded a few baskets, before Tailor Jones led a run to get NU within 53-49 with 7:47 left. Then the wheels came off, as Toledo hit four straight three pointers, and that was that.
For the game, NU shot 36.4%, including just 22.2% from downtown. Morgan Jones led the team with 18 points, albeit on 4-of-14 shooting, and Hackney added a similarly low-shooting-percentage 10 points, with a team-high seven rebounds.
So now it's on to Big Ten play. Up first is a road game at Iowa on Friday. The Hawkeyes are 8-5 on the season and were predicted to be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, just like Northwestern, so this will be a good test. Also like the Wildcats, the Hawkeyes have a heralded freshman class that included a McDonald's High School All-American in Samantha Logic (ESPN HoopGurlz ranked it the 11th best class; NU's class of Jones, Cohen and Karly Roser was 14th). Iowa is led by junior guard Jamie Printy, who scores 17.2 points per game.
The Wildcats and Hawkeyes have two common opponents so far: UNLV, which won at Iowa, 69-59, but lost big at home to NU, 79-49; and Kansas State, which lost in OT at home against Iowa, 81-78, but blew out NU on a neutral court, 64-45. So, this transitive comparison is inconclusive.
The early part of the Big Ten schedule is a relatively easy portion for NU, with games to follow against Minnesota and Indiana, and notching a win against the Hawkeyes would be a good start. Depth, which was already an issue, now becomes a critical problem if Diamant remains out. The starters, particularly Hackney and Jones, better be prepared to play a ton of minutes, and hopefully Cohen and little-used Anna Cole can step up to fill Diamant's void.