It was bound to happen at some point, but the No. 12 Northwestern Wildcats have lost their first game. Northwestern was outlasted Saturday by the No. 16 DePaul Blue Demons, who, despite their slightly inferior ranking, looked like the better squad for much of the game. DePaul led for near the entire game, often by double digits, en route to a 77-64 victory.
While the midweek blowout against Alcorn State provided a bit of a distraction, today Northwestern looked startlingly like the team that almost lost to Loyola a week ago. Once again, the Wildcats had a very poor first quarter, shooting 12 percent from the field and scoring only 8 points. They rebounded in the second and managed to play DePaul about even, but, because of their play early, trailed by 13 at half.
The third quarter was the lone bright spot for Northwestern, as Nia Coffey came alive and the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run to cut the DePaul lead to 3 heading into the fourth. It would prove to be insufficient however, as the Blue Demons opened the fourth with a 12-4 run and then Megan Podkowa hit a dagger three-pointer with four minutes left to essentially ice the game.
For DePaul, Podkowa was unstoppable, scoring 27 points to go along with 14 rebounds and 4 blocks. She was deadly from downtown, hitting 6 of her 7 threes. Chanise Jenkins and Jessica January were fantastic as well, as both almost had triple-doubles. Jenkins had 13 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists while January had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Leading the way for Northwestern was Christen Inman, who had 17 points and 4 rebounds, and Nia Coffey, who once again had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. However, Coffey only had 1 point halfway through the third quarter and shot 30 percent from the field. She fouled out with about a minute left.
While Coffey didn't have a great game, the story for the Wildcats was their inability to rebound. This had been a lurking problem multiple times earlier in the season, most notably against Loyola last Sunday. Saturday, it finally came back to bite the Wildcats. DePaul outrebounded Northwestern by 14 and had 16 offensive rebounds. These rebounds led to 14 second chance points which is just about the difference in the final score.
To make matters worse, Northwestern did not play very good defense for large stretches. "Defensively we just broke down at the wrong place, wrong time," head coach Joe McKeown said in his WNUR postgame interview. "They made us pay, we just had meltdowns on defense." The 77 points scored by DePaul are the most Northwestern has given up all season.
As far as playing time goes, all five starters played 30-plus minutes with the only difference being that Lydia Rohde was one of those five starters. The bench wasn't much more than Jordan Hankins, who played 19 minutes, while nobody else played more than 5. This appears to be the rotation as of now, but it was surprising to see Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah not get a little more playing time, given the fact she is one of Northwestern's best rebounders.
This was Northwestern's first real test of the season, and it was also one of its worst performances of the season. All of the flaws the Wildcats were able to hide against lesser opponents were exposed by a very good DePaul team. Rebounding will continue to be a problem for the rest of the season, especially since the starting five currently has Nia Coffey as the only real forward. Northwestern plays Missouri-Kansas City in just three days and will look to rebound and get one more non-conference win before Big Ten play.