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Northwestern women's basketball wastes a good first half and falls to Michigan

The Wildcats came out of the gates roaring Saturday but couldn't hold onto the ball in the second half and Michigan took advantage en route to the win.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Scoring the game's first nine points wasn't enough for Northwestern on Saturday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan Arena against the Michigan Wolverines, as the Wildcats lost their second consecutive game in brutal fashion.

Northwestern (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) played really well for the game's first 19 minutes and very poorly in the final 21, as the second half was NU's downfall in yet another conference loss. Maggie Lyon led the way for Northwestern with 17 points but the real stars of the game were Michigan's Siera Thompson (20 points), Shannon Smith (20 points) and Cyesha Goree (18 points) who scored 58 of Michigan's 73 points.

"I don't think we played as hard and had too many turnovers," reserve Lauren Douglas said on her team's second half struggles. "We just didn't take care of the ball like we've been doing."

A Lyon triple started things off well for NU, which held Michigan scoreless for the game's first three-and-a-half minutes before a Thompson three put the Wolverines on the board. Still, the quick start set the tempo for the rest of the first half as the Wildcats, outside of the last minute of the period, dominated play on both ends of the floor.

"We shared the ball and defended well," McKeown said about his team's strong early play. "We were able to rebound the ball and get out [on the break]. Unfortunately, in the second half we weren't able to do that."

With their lead cut to 15-11 on a Goree jumper with 11:53 to go in the half, the Wildcats rolled off a 11-2 run culminating in an Alex Cohen (16 points and five rebounds) three which gave them a 13-point lead, their largest. A beautiful Ashley Deary (10 points, seven assists) feed to a cutting Cohen initiated the scoring spurt. However, the Wolverines continued to fight back and would not go away.

Goree, Michigan's leading scorer and rebounder, got hurt on an offensive rebound attempt going up against Nia Coffey (six points, 10 rebounds) with 3:56 left, but was able to come back onto the floor as she scored a game-high 10 first half points. Her presence was crucial in the back-to-back threes Michigan was able to hit right before the half to bring the score to 31-27.

"She's just an overall really good player," Cohen said about Goree and how dominant she can be down low. "Post defense is important against her such as fronting the post and not letting her get touches."

It was a sloppy 20 minutes of play, with 22 combined turnovers between the two teams, and NU coach Joe McKeown was definitely upset with how it ended, not how it began. His team severely outplayed its opponent yet only entered the second half ahead by two baskets.

That sloppiness would continue after the intermission as Northwestern continued to commit turnovers and miss defensive assignments that allowed Michigan to tie the game up at 36 on another Thompson three and take the lead a few moments after that on a Danielle Williams jumper with 16:02 left in regulation.

"Michigan did a good job defending but the turnovers plagued us when we needed buckets," McKeown said regarding his team's inability to take care of the ball. "That to me was our biggest problem tonight."

Northwestern had multiple chances to get back on top but continued to settle for contested threes and long twos as Michigan sped up the pace of the game. Even when the Wildcats tried to attack the rim, such as when Douglas blocked a shot and took the ball all the way down the floor, they either missed or were called for offensive fouls, as Douglas was at the 9:09 mark.

A little over a minute later, Goree hit a tough layup that pushed the Wolverines' advantage to four points, 52-48. That bucket was part of a 11-4 run Michigan used to command a nine-point lead that essentially sealed the game away.

By then, it was too late for the Wildcats to make a serious comeback push. Every time they scored, Michigan answered and even when they didn't, the road team was still able to find a way to put points on the board. Another disappointing finish for NU, which has now lost two Big Ten games in a row after winning three of its first four.

When you commit 21 turnovers, and thus take 19 less shots than your opponent, it's hard to win a Big Ten game and Joe McKeown's team now knows that firsthand.

The Wildcats' next game is at Illinois on Thursday as they try to snap their only losing streak of the season, which is now two games.