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Northwestern nabs first Big Ten win in rematch with Illinois

by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)

Unlike the first game between Illinois and Northwestern, an 18-point blowout for the Illini, this match came down to the last two minutes. Luckily for the Wildcats, the result was different as well.

NU (9-9, 1-4 Big Ten) pulled out its first Big Ten win of the season with a 62-58 victory over an Illinois team that had completely dominated them just 10 days earlier.

The key to victory ended up being quite simple: make more shots. In the Jan. 20 matchup, NU made only 30.8 percent of its shots. In this game, it increased that mark by 15 percent while holding Illinois to just 26.2 percent shooting.

Illinois (10-8, 3-3) stayed in the game by making 88.5 percent (23-26) of its free throws, while Northwestern made only 60 percent (15-25). However, the Cats made them when they mattered most.

With exactly two minutes left in the game, NU pulled even with Illinois on a Dannielle Diamant free throw, and Alex Cohen sealed the victory, nailing two free throws to give the Cats a four-point lead with 19 seconds to play.

Ball control also helped turn the tides for NU. In the first meeting with Illinois, the Cats turned the ball over 34 times, prompting coach Joe McKeown to preach ball control prior to this meeting.

“Just taking care of the basketball (is what needs to change),” he said. “That really was the big difference in that game.”

This time, the Cats gave up the ball 23 times. Although NU still has the eleventh-worst turnover margin in the conference, the improvement in ball control helped the Cats limit the Illini to 19 points off of turnovers, compared to their 23 in the first game.

Two of NU’s top players stepped up after struggling in the first matchup. Forward Kendall Hackey led the team with 21 points. Cohen finished with a double-double, the first of her career, tallying 12 points and 10 rebounds.

With a conference win under their belts, the Cats head to West Lafayette, Ind. to take on No. 12 Purdue (15-3, 4-1) on Thursday. The Boilermakers will be looking to bounce back after their first conference loss, a 62-46 blowout against Iowa on Sunday. They now sit one game behind Michigan and Penn State, who play each other tomorrow, for the Big Ten lead.