After a huge comeback in the third quarter, Northwestern blew another fourth-quarter lead on the road and fell to Minnesota 95-92. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham scored 32 points and hit six threes, which was enough to overcome Nia Coffey’s 27 points and Maggie Lyon’s 22.
In the first half, Northwestern and Minnesota both operated at peak offensive efficiency. The tenor of the game was fast-paced and high-scoring as both teams shot very well from the field. Banham torched the Wildcats for 15 points in the first quarter but Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and Lyon kept Northwestern in the game early on. However, early foul trouble for Coffey forced Northwestern to play most of the second quarter without its best player, and Minnesota took advantage. Minnesota scored 52 points in the first half and went to the break up by 11 points.
Minnesota started the second half well, but Northwestern went on a 15-1 run midway through the third quarter. Coffey scored 19 points in the third alone and Lyon hit her 245th career three-pointer, setting the all-time Northwestern record for most career made three-pointers. Northwestern took the lead late in the third, but Minnesota managed to tie the game at 74-74.
Northwestern and Minnesota slowed down the pace in the fourth, and Northwestern took an 83-80 lead following a Christen Inman three with 5:46 remaining. However, Northwestern’s offense stalled and Minnesota took a three-point lead with three minutes left behind a jumpshot from bench player Karly Barnes and another basket from the unstoppable Banham.
Northwestern was unable to score in its next two possessions and Minnesota was able to ice the game with free throws. Minnesota forced two key turnovers in crunch time and Northwestern was unable to recover. Lydia Rohde almost completed a valiant Northwestern comeback with a three in the dying seconds, but the Wildcats fell short as Ashley Deary missed a long three-pointer to end the game. Northwestern falls to 2-5 in Big Ten play and 0-4 on the road.
Nia Coffey is back to full strength
Despite missing much of the first half due to early foul trouble, Coffey exploded for 19 points in the third quarter. Minnesota was unable to stop Coffey in the second half. Coffey looked strong going to the basket and appears to be completely recovered from her scary injury in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. She even got her perimeter shooting going, hitting three threes and several midrange jumpers. The team needs Coffey’s incredible offensive ability to contend in the Big Ten, and she looked much better than she did at Maryland on Sunday.
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah shines offensively, Deary fades away
After a disappointing scoreless performance against Maryland, Kunaiyi-Akpanah produced her second career double-double against Minnesota. While most of her points came from Dererk-esque second chance points, she acquitted herself well offensively and excelled on the boards.
Deary’s offensive struggles in Big Ten play continued against Minnesota. She had just six points on 3-of-10 shooting with 4 turnovers. Even though she had 10 assists, her poor shooting has become a major trend in the last five games. Deary is shooting just 26 percent since the win over Nebraska.
Northwestern’s defense falls apart again
While Northwestern’s offense was electrifying, the defense was downright terrible for the entire game. Northwestern’s defense has allowed more than 80 points in four of its last five games in Big Ten play. Although much of Minnesota’s success was due to the incredible shooting of Banham, Northwestern once again looked lost in the paint and allowed several easy baskets to Minnesota, including one wide-open layup in crunch-time. Northwestern has to tighten up defensively if it wants to get wins on the road in Big Ten play and to help the offense when shots are not falling. Whether its through better defensive scheme or better coaching, Northwestern must get better on defense if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern postseason hopes are in big trouble
Northwestern seemed to be on solid ground after going 1-1 last week against Ohio State and Maryland, but this tough defeat to Minnesota is another major blow to Northwestern’s postseason hopes. Northwestern had to continue to play well in the Big Ten, and that hasn’t happened. The selection committee will not look kindly on Northwestern 0-4 record on the road in the Big Ten. Losing to a Minnesota team that probably won’t make the tournament gives Northwestern two road losses to non-tournament teams, and we’re not even out of January yet.
Like the game against Penn State, Northwestern was unable to get defensive stops in the fourth quarter or execute offensively down the stretch. This loss is a major setback for Northwestern, and it makes the Wildcats’ upcoming home game against on Sunday against Indiana incredibly important.