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Northwestern women hold off Illinois, 64-58

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It was an important win to cap off a good week for Joe McKeown's team.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern didn't make it easy on themselves Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. But after withstanding a furious second-half Illinois comeback, the Wildcats did just enough down the stretch to escape with a 64-58 win over the Illini.

After a sluggish start, Northwestern found a rhythm and led by as many as 15 points early in the second half. But the Illini stormed back to tie the score at 55 with under four minutes remaining. That made for an exciting and intense finale.

In the games final few minutes, a few Wildcats stepped up.

Ashley Deary hit a crucial three-pointer to quell the Illinois momentum. Then Alex Cohen scrapped for and came up with a loose ball with about a minute to play that allowed NU to retain possession up by 3.

And then, with Illinois searching for a game-tying bucket with less than 20 seconds to play, Lauren Douglas made the play of the game, stepping in as a help defender and taking a charge on Illinois Kyley Simmons. The foul was also Simmons' fifth.

Both teams struggled with foul trouble all game. Senior guard Karly Roser fouled out for NU, and Simmons and Ivory Crawford were disqualified for the Illini.

Simmons led Illinois with 17 points. Maggie Lyon led Northwestern with 17. Nia Coffey added 14, and Deary pitched in with 13 of her own. Coffey had a double-double with 11 rebounds.

Christen Inman missed the game for Northwestern with an ankle injury, forcing coach Joe McKeown to go with what was essentially a six-player rotation.

It's a huge win for the Wildcats, who are now 17-6 overall and 7-5 in Big Ten play. After two wins this week, NU likely sits on the right side of the bubble.

They'll be back in action on Wednesday at Purdue.