EVANSTON — Northwestern women's basketball continues to look very good to start non-conference play, as the team dominated the Idaho State Bengals, 72-36, at Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday night.
Nia Coffey led the Wildcats with 16 points and 18 rebounds but the rest of the team had an off shooting night, managing 38.4 percent from the field and just 29.2 percent from three. However, Idaho State had no answer for Northwestern's constant defensive pressure and the outcome was never in doubt.
Taking cues from the football team, the Wildcats came into the game ranked 20th in the country and backed up their ranking with a dominant performance on defense. Northwestern was well-organized, but Idaho State missed a cavalcade of shots. Northwestern has only allowed one three-pointer through the first two games of the year.
"In practice it's all about team defensive rebounding, so we're just really trying to focus on keeping our intensity up and just being really aggressive on the defensive end," Coffey said following the game.
Idaho State went down 20-5 and made only one field goal in the first quarter. The game was basically over from there.
Although Northwestern never came close to relinquishing the lead, both teams struggled to hit shots consistently in the first half. Northwestern had several ugly possessions in the second quarter, but Idaho State was unable to capitalize. In the second half, Northwestern looked much more composed and improved its field goal percentage from 35 in the first half to 42.4 percent after the break. Ashley Deary, Coffey and Maggie Lyon carved up Idaho State's defense and they all ended with over 15 points each.
"I thought we did a really good job defensively," coach Joe McKeown said. "I liked our effort and it's what we're preaching between now and when we start the Big Ten. It wasn't pretty tonight... we got a little sloppy offensively."
Despite being up by double-digits for most of the game, Coach McKeown did not rotate through much of the squad until the closing minutes. In a trend that will likely continue as competition gets tougher, Coffey, Inman, Deary, and Lyon all played 29+ minutes. Surprisingly, Maggie Lyon had another poor night from beyond the arc, going just 1 for 7, but she still rebounded from a poor offensive performance against Howard with 18 points on 8 of 18 shooting. Lyon has started the year 3 for 13 from beyond the arc.
"I see it every day, we're streaky. We're very underrated and a little bit overrated at the same time," said Coach McKeown. "I think we've been focusing so much on defense [but] over the next two or three weeks I think our offense will get better."
The team's offense slowed down significantly when the starters came off the court during the second quarter, and Northwestern's fast-paced attack was hampered by a series of missed shots. Once the starters came back in at the beginning of the second half, the offensive stabilized. Idaho State looked fairly incompetent on offense, unable to deal with Northwestern's defensive intensity.
Deary scored 17 points with 7 assists and 7 steals, yet another crazy stat line for the junior point guard. Maya Jonas and Christen Johnson split time at Northwestern's makeshift "center" position, each getting 15 minutes apiece. Jonas looked very good on the boards and collected 7 offensive rebounds. Neither player contributed much on offense, combining for just 6 points.
"I think Christen has stepped in and earned that fifth spot right now," McKeown said. "She understands that her strength is physical post play and Idaho State stretched her out a little bit. There's gonna be different styles of play and we gotta be prepared to play against big, physical teams."
Inside NU In-Depth Observations!
1. It will be interesting to see who gets the most minutes outside of the "core four". Christen Johnson and Maya Jonas looked about even on skill level today, and McKeown looks like he's using the first few games as an audition for the spot. Amber Jamison and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah also got some minutes on the floor. Johnson appears to be the starter, but her minutes deserve monitoring in the games to come.
2. Tessa Haldes came into the season with zero career points, but she made a three-pointer at the end of the game to take her to five points in two games! For those who don't know, Tessa Haldes is a walk-on senior guard who usually comes on at the end of blowouts. She also causes the bench to erupt in cheers whenever she makes a shot, which is fantastic.
3. Northwestern's rebounding was excellent today, but whether they will be able to keep this up against good competition remains to be seen. Idaho State was seemingly content to let the Wildcats get extra possessions on almost every shot, with Northwestern picking 23 offensive boards.
Northwestern will face Western Michigan on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena hoping to remain undefeated.