EVANSTON — The losses just keep piling up for Northwestern, and at some point soon they're going to become insurmountable. The Wildcats lost their fifth straight game Sunday, falling to Iowa 79-64 at Welsh Ryan Arena.
Maggie Lyon started off the scoring with a quick three only 11 seconds into the game, but it would be the only three Northwestern would hit the entire half. Iowa wasn't much better from deep, shooting 1-7 for the half. With neither team shooting well Iowa had a slim two point lead at the end of the first.
Following a Christen Inman jumper, Iowa started the second on a 6-0 run and forced head coach Joe McKeown to call a timeout. Out of the timeout Northwestern went on 6-0 run of their own to tie the game up at 25 a piece. The poor shooting continued for both sides as Northwestern shot 35 percent from the field and was 1-11 from three. The Hawkeyes did shoot 50 percent from the field, mostly on mid-range jumpers, but they took 10 fewer shots than Northwestern and shot 14 percent from three.
The first half saw only one lead change, but seven ties, as Northwestern constantly fought to keep pace with Iowa. Leading the way for the Hawkeyes was Chase Coley, who had 13 point on 7 of 8 shooting at the half, and finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds.
The third quarter was much of same, with the two teams matching each other run for run and even basket for basket. Then at the end of the quarter everything started to unravel for the Wildcats.
Iowa hit three straight layups, exploiting lackadaisical defense, to take a 54-46 lead and force McKeown to burn another timeout. The Wildcats managed to fight back a bit with a late 4-0 run, but trailed 54-50 at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter was when the wheels finally fell off. Similar to each of Northwestern last four losses, the Wildcats were outscored in the fourth as Iowa had their best quarter of the game scoring 25 points to Northwestern's 14. While it was a close game until the fourth, Northwestern's first lead turned out to be also be their last. The 3-2 lead with 7:49 left in the first would be the Wildcats' final lead of the game.
Despite three quarters of back and forth basketball, Iowa's huge fourth quarter was too much as Northwestern loses their fifth straight game. This loss drops the Wildcats to 13-9 on the season and 2-8 in the Big Ten. They'll look to break the losing streak on Thursday in Champaign against Illinois.
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah has been a breakout player for Northwestern so far this season and came into Sunday fresh off a 16 rebound game against Ohio State. However she would only play 12 minutes against Iowa due to early foul trouble. Kunaiyi-Akpanah was called for her second foul just minutes into the game and promptly came out of the game. Then the next two times she came back in, once in the second quarter and once in the third, she was called for her third and fourth fouls very quickly and went right back to the bench.
"It really hurt us tonight," said McKeown. "Usually they’re a great three point shooting team, today their post play was the difference in the game. 34 points from [Gustafson and Coley] I don’t think either of them average double digits so that’s a big swing right there, probably the difference in the game."
Also in foul trouble was Nia Coffey, and while she still played 37 minutes, the fouls stopped her from being more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Even in foul trouble Coffey was one of the few bright spots as she had 20 points and 14 rebounds, albeit on 40 percent shooting. Allie Tuttle did manage to give Northwestern some great minutes from the bench, which kept the team in it, but this team is not deep enough to have one let alone two starters in foul trouble.
Threes need to start falling
Northwestern has been ice-cold from three in Big Ten play and that trend continued against Iowa. Northwestern shot 16.7 percent from three on 18 attempts and only hit one three in the first half. Maggie Lyon is basically Northwestern’s only above-average three point shooter, and the rest of the team went 0 for 10 from beyond the arc.
"We didn’t shoot very well today at home, which is really disappointing," said McKeown. "We didn’t get some of the easy baskets we’ve been getting in transition. For us when we’re a great team, like when we beat Ohio State, or when we beat Nebraska, it’s because we’re able to run out and our defense is really aggressive."
Ashley Deary and Christen Inman did not hit a three in this game. The Wildcats have to start hitting threes if they want to win games. They need an alternative to hoping they can get easy points in transition. Northwestern’s offensive efficiency was not good in this game either, they shot 36.1 percent from the field and took 16 more shots than the Hawkeyes, but still lost by 13.
Fourth quarter struggles strike again
Northwestern has been terrible at closing out games in Big Ten play and this game was no different. The Wildcats were only down 4 heading into the fourth quarter, but Iowa outscored Northwestern 25-14 in a clinical fourth quarter display. Northwestern’s fourth quarter defense could not get a stop as Iowa basically scored at will.
"For about 35 minutes it was a really good college basketball game," said McKeown. "We just didn’t do enough to defend Iowa when we needed to in the fourth quarter. It got away from us, but it was a hard fought game."
In Big Ten play, Northwestern’s fourth quarter defense has been absolutely awful. After giving up 33 points in the fourth to Indiana and 26 to Ohio State, they did not improve much against Iowa."I think we just need to have a focus all four quarters, I just think that at the end of games is when you really need to grind out possessions and stops," said Maggie Lyon. "Good offensive possessions and just taking care of the ball, and I just think we need to hone in on that more." Other than Michigan State and Maryland, Northwestern has not been in most of the games its played, but the fourth quarter execution has been badly lacking.