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Since You've Been Gone...

by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)

As the Women's Basketball team heads into conference play against No. 9 Penn State on Thursday night, catch up on what they've done so far and what to look for during the Big Ten lineup.

Season so far (8-5)

MVP: Kendall Hackney -- The senior forward has been the Wildcats' warrior the entire season, playing in all 13 games and averaging nearly 35 minutes per contest. She leads the team in points (14.5 per game) and sits behind only senior center Dannielle Diamant in rebounds (6.5 per game). During the New York Life Holiday Invitational, Hackney scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in two games en route to a spot on the All-Tournament team.

Breakout stars: Lauren Douglas and Maggie Lyon -- Inexperience has not slowed this freshmen duo, with each playing over 32 minutes per game for Northwestern. Both forwards have garnered attention outside of NU, with each earning a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award this season. Despite missing five games because of a leg injury, Lyon is averaging 14.4 points per game, second-most on the team, and she leads the team in three-point shooting percentage. In her collegiate debut, the Wilmette-native posted 21 points to lead the Cats to a 79-69 season-opening win over University of Tennessee-Martin. Douglas took the spotlight in the next game, posting a double-double to lead NU past Central Michigan, 82-72. She is one of three Cats players to play in every game this season, averaging 11.7 points per game.

Best game: 71-65 loss to No. 9 California -- Despite the loss, NU played its most complete game against a quality opponent,  battling the Golden Bears in a game that included 12 ties and 13 lead changes. The Cats led as late as the 16:30 mark in the second half but California's leading scorer Gennifer Brandon gave the Golden Bears the decisive lead with a layup and free throw and California escaped with a victory. Diamant posted her fourth double-double of the season despite having missed the previous two games with an injury.

Coming up

Biggest game: Three Big Ten teams currently are ranked in the Associated Press poll (No. 9 Penn State, No. 14 Purdue, No. 25 Nebraska) and four more received votes in the poll (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa), so all will be potential resume-builders for the Cats. However, NU's first conference match might be its biggest, when they take on No. 9 Penn State on Thursday night in State College, Pa. The Nittany Lions were knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year by a two-point loss to DePaul but have rebounded with a 10-2 start this season. Guard Maggie Lucas averages 20.9 points per game for Penn State, good for 16th in the country. So far this season, the Nittany Lions have knocked off No. 24 Texas A&M, the first time the Aggies lost in a non-conference game at home since 2003.

Who to watch: Sophomore guard Karly Roser has quietly had a very solid first half of the season, dishing out 6.6 assists per game, the 10th-best mark in the country. She has also, along with Hackney and Douglas, played in every game this year. With so many good shooters on the team, Roser's role as the set-up woman becomes even more important. The Cats will need her consistency if they hope to ear a few upsets in Big Ten play.

Projected finish: 15-14, 7-9 Big Ten