The season officially started today, but the Northwestern women's basketball game against Howard looked awfully similar to last week's exhibition win against Seton Hill. The Wildcats started hot and didn't look back, jumping out to a 22-8 lead in the first quarter en route to a 89-49 win in the season opener. The Wildcats dominated both sides of the ball, forcing 27 turnovers and operating well offensively.
"I'm proud of the way we opened the season," said head coach Joe McKeown. "We got a little bit sloppy late in the game but it gives us some ideas of things we have to work on."
Nia Coffey led the Wildcats with 27 points and 7 rebounds, scoring her 1000th career point early in the second quarter.
"Congrats to Nia on her 1000th point," said McKeown. "It's an honor to coach her because she's so humble and when you have a player like that, who doesn't care who gets the credit. It really makes my job a lot easier."
Christen Inman contributed 18 and Ashley Deary had a solid all around game, scoring 16 to go along with 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Maggie Lyon had an off night shooting for the Wildcats, only scoring three points on 12 percent shooting from the field. Howard was led by center Victoria Gonzales who had 21 points. Gonzalez was 7/18 from the field but 7/9 from the line.
Due to the nature of the game, most of Northwestern's bench got playing time throughout, but McKeown also went to some of his younger players early, most notably freshman Jordan Hankins. Hankins played back up point guard for much of the game, but also saw some time playing shooting guard alongside Deary.
"Jordan Hankins is a great scorer and you saw a little bit of that tonight," said McKeown. "Her and Deary together give us a different look in the backcourt, and quickness and speed, which in the Big Ten you're going to need."
Hankins finished with 13 points and 4 steals while also shooting 71 percent from the field.
Northwestern's hot start was partially caused by the 2-3 zone that Howard played for much of the first half. Shooters were left open on the outside as Howard dared the Wildcats to shoot, but more importantly Howard got shredded by Northwestern's players cutting to the basket. Things didn't get much better when the visitors switched to man-to-man in the third quarter, as the Wildcats began to get easy buckets on the dribble drive.
"We just wanted to be patient and have ball movement," said Deary. "Make them work in the zone, get open shots and move the ball."
On the defensive side of the ball, Northwestern was once again all over the court, forcing 27 turnovers and holding Howard to 30 percent from the field and 0/18 from three.
"I feel like defensively we did a pretty good job, transition is really when we get going," said McKeown. "That's really our bread and butter."
That combo of efficient offense and smothering defense will be the Wildcats M.O, as the season progresses, and it helped them coast to an easy win against Howard.