EVANSTON — Just four days ago, Northwestern left State College, Penn. with a demoralizing loss to a 5-6 team. The Wildcats got worked down low and out-rebounded by 19. Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and it was hard to tell if this was even the same team.
The Wildcats were boxing out, grabbing every rebound and shutting down a Nebraska team that was supposed to have a height advantage. The start of Big Ten season may not have gone according to play, but the Wildcats got back on track Sunday against Nebraska, leading wire to wire and winning 85-62.
As it has done so many times this season, Northwestern came out hot in the first quarter and never looked back. The 28-point first quarter was their second highest scoring quarter of the season and it included a 17-2 run in the first five minutes. It was the perfect storm for Northwestern as the Wildcats shot well, rebounded and forced six steals leading to easy points in transition.
"We just really wanted to focus on us and focus on the things that we do well," Northwestern guard Christen Inman said. "So coming out hot and coming out fast was one of the things that we needed to do."
Nebraska was able to cut into the lead a bit in the third quarter thanks to a 10-0 run, but the Cornhuskers would never get closer than down 15. Then, in the fourth, Northwestern started hitting their threes again and the lead ballooned back to more than 20.
It was a great team game for the Wildcats, especially coming off a loss, but the individual stats were even more impressive. Nia Coffey had her ninth double-double of the season and her fourth in the last five games with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks. Coffey leads the Big Ten in double-doubles this season. Christen Inman was just three short of her career high in points with 25 and set her career high in made three pointers with 5. Ashley Deary was near the quadruple-double zone with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 8 steals.
"[Ashley] was unbelievable today," said Coach Joe McKeown. "I tell her once a week, she's the best point guard in the Big Ten. Not to make her a target, but from a confidence stand point, because when she plays like that it's just awesome to watch. I think she really took it upon herself after the Penn State game to take a leadership role with our team."
For Nebraska, Natalie Romeo led the way with 17 points and Jessica Shepard contributed 12 points and 14 rebounds down low. The biggest surprise was 6-foot-5 Allie Havers, who only had 6 points and 7 rebounds on 25 percent shooting.
The key to the game for the Wildcats was no different than their last game against Penn State, rebounding. But unlike the game against the Nittany Lions, Northwestern won the battle down low, out-rebounding Nebraska 57-46 and they had 21 offensive rebounds as well. In fact, Northwestern's 57 rebounds were their season high.
"All season we've been focusing on boxing out and, since they're bigger than us, we really just focused on pushing them back and just getting position," said Coffey. "It's a lot of heart, rebounding as well."
They were equally impressive down low on defense even though Nebraska touts a huge frontcourt of the 6-foot-5 Havers and 6-foot-4 Shepard. Northwestern was able to defend the size difference by fronting Nebraska in the post and making the entry passes much more difficult. Also not giving Nebraska many second chances helped as well.
"Shepard is going to be a really good player in our league and Theriot has been already a great player in the Big Ten so you're not just going to completely shut them down, but I thought we just had an awareness of where the ball was coming off, we put a body on people. I think the stats proved that today, " said McKeown. "We seemed a little bit quicker to the ball then we have been, jumping and blocking out. If we can block out and then get in transition we're pretty good.
Northwestern improves to 12-2 on the season and 1-1 in the Big Ten, while Nebraska falls to 9-4 and 0-2 in the Big Ten. Northwestern's next game is Thursday at Welsh Ryan Arena against Purdue.