EVANSTON – At some point the losses start to add up, and for Northwestern they're adding up fast. The Wildcats lost their sixth Big Ten game on Sunday, falling to Indiana 91-84 at Welsh Ryan Arena.
Northwestern started well enough, using a 7-0 run to take a 12-9 lead into the first media timeout, but Indiana held right with them. Neither team shot the lights out in the first, with Indiana shooting 42 percent to Northwestern's 39 percent, but Indiana held the slim one point lead, 21-20.
The second quarter was more of the same except for a late 9-1 run from the Hoosiers. That little burst gave them a 5 point lead heading into half, despite the brilliant play of Nia Coffey. Coffey had 14 points and 5 rebounds at half. The back and forth affair of the first half had six lead changes.
The latter half of the third quarter was when the Wildcats made their move. With Indiana up 55-54, Northwestern ripped off a 11-3 run to take a 7-point lead heading into the fourth. The run was highlighted by Ashley Deary picking the pocket of Indiana's Tyra Buss and sprinting up the court for an uncontested layup.
However, the Hoosiers would simply not go away. Facing a seven point deficit with eight minutes left in the game, Indiana went on a 15-4 run to turn their deficit into a 4-point lead. Things would only get worse from there for Northwestern. The Wildcats went cold from the field just in time for Indiana to heat up. Northwestern managed to hold on for a few more minutes, but a late 5-0 run from the Hoosiers put the game out of reach.
Northwestern only scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, compared to Indiana's 33 and despite huge games from Nia Coffey, 29 points and 11 rebounds, and Ashley Deary, 28 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds, lost their third straight game. This is now their sixth Big Ten loss on the season, and it doesn't get any easier this upcoming week. The Wildcats next game is in Columbus against Ohio State on Thursday.
Good Ashley Deary is back
Ever since the loss to Michigan State, Ashley Deary hasn't looked great for whatever reason. She was still getting assists, but her scoring had diminished. That changed today. Deary hit her first shot of the game, a three, and was off to the races from there. Deary was great all around, finishing with a near triple double to go along with 4 steals and only 3 turnovers.
"Things have been a little rough, I’ve kind of had some up and downs, some turnovers, and [I'm] just trying to find a rhythm in Big Ten play," said Deary. "I guess today was just all in for me and for us as a team."
The importance of Deary to the team cannot be understated. The offense almost exclusively runs through her and then she creates easy points in transition off her steals. Getting her back to the high level of play she's capable of is of the utmost importance for Northwestern.
"I felt like she did everything right, she was doing the right things running our team, making defensive plays," said Head Coach Joe McKeown. "I just thought she played at the level at which I've seen her play in the past."
Northwestern will need Deary to shoulder some of the load offensively, as well as be a facilitator if it wants to get back to winning games.
The defense is still a problem
While it started the game off well, by the time the second half rolled around Northwestern's zone defense once again looked below average. The Wildcats were consistently giving up wide open three pointers and losing players near the basket.
"I think we just broke down defensively, said Deary. "We weren’t communicating in transition, so we just have to improve upon that"
The on ball defense was solid, but once again the off ball defense was bad. For the fourth straight game Northwestern gave up more than 80 points and it's not a coincidence that they're 1-3 in those games. While scoring hasn't really been an issue, the shoddy defense is what is keeping other teams in the game. The defense has not been great all season, but now it's officially a problem.
Tournament hopes are in serious trouble
After the win against Ohio State, things were looking good for Northwestern because the Wildcats finally had a marquee win. But having a marquee win means nothing if you can't win the games you're supposed to win. Following this loss, Northwestern only has two wins in the Big Ten and the team is in serious trouble if it has any tournament aspirations.
"We’ll bounce back, we’re a resilient team," said McKeown. "We have to clean up our defense because we’ll find ways to score."
Whether or not the Wildcats are able to turn it around remains to be seen, but even if they do, it might not be enough.