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Northwestern beats Rutgers, moves closer to NCAA Tournament

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Another win over a ranked team for Northwestern, and the Wildcats have nearly locked in their Tournament bid.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Ill. -- You can believe in jinxes all you want. You can stick to the idea of taking it one game at a time. But after a dominant 80-60 win Thursday night over No. 18 Rutgers, Northwestern women's basketball is all but there. The Wildcats are all but going to their first NCAA Tournament since 1997.

And remarkably, they're doing it in style. In a game that was billed as a key battle between 11-5 teams toward the top of the Big Ten, Northwestern ran the Scarlet Knights out of the gym.

"I don't worry about [making statements]," coach Joe McKeown said after the game. But a statement was exactly what it was.

Both teams actually started slow. But NU pushed its lead to eight right before the break, and then opened the second half with a 14-3 run. From there, the Wildcats never looked back. By the midway point of the second period, they were in cruise control.

"I loved how we closed the game," McKeown said. "We played really well with the lead tonight."

Five players scored in double digits for NU, and all seven who played significant minutes made major contributions. Those five--Nia Coffey, Alex Cohen, Ashley Deary, Maggie Lyon and Lauren Douglas--combined for 74 of Northwestern's 80 points.

"That's what's hard about us to guard as a team," Douglas said following the game. "On any given night, anybody can get 15 points. You have to stop all of us."

Coffey was a force on both ends of the floor and on the boards. She finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and got NU going early. Deary was the catalyst though. She was a one-person press break, a one-person steal machine, and led the Wildcats with 19 points.

"That's why I recruited [Deary]," McKeown said. "She's fearless. Rutgers has the ability to turnover any guard, and I thought she just handled the pressure that came at her. They're physical, they're quick, and she just handled it. To me, that was the biggest difference in the game."

Lyon added 17 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, and Douglas scored 11 of her 13 points after the interval.

It's the eighth straight win for the Wildcats, and interestingly, it marks their second eight-game win streak of the season. The last time the program went on two eight-game win streaks in the same campaign was 1978-79.

The win essentially locked up a double-bye in next week's Big Ten Tournament. No. 5 Maryland is up next for Northwestern on Sunday. The Terps will be a big test. But after tonight, there's nothing to say the Wildcats can't pass it.