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DePaul defeats Northwestern women’s basketball 89-66 thanks to three-point barrage

Northwestern was unable to keep up with DePaul’s offensive execution.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Maryland v Northwestern Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

DePaul didn’t just live by the three in its 89-66 win over Northwestern, it used the three to buy a three-story mansion on the North Shore.

Northwestern (3-1) entered this crosstown rivalry game without leading scorer and all-Big Ten forward Nia Coffey. But while her absence was a factor, DePaul’s impressive offensive execution proved to be the real culprit in Northwestern’s blowout loss to No. 20 DePaul (3-0). DePaul’s Jessica January exploded for 25 points and her team combined to hit 14 three-pointers, wiping away a promising start for the shorthanded Wildcats.

With Lauren Douglas starting in place of Coffey, Northwestern kept the game competitive early. The team survived a brief ankle injury to Christen Inman and battled its way to a 12-9 lead with 3:47 left in the first quarter. But Tanita Allen of DePaul refused to let Northwestern get away, hitting two threes to put the home side up 15-12.

The second quarter was easily the most engaging quarter of basketball Northwestern has played this season. The game became a tactical battle of two opposing philosophies, as DePaul resorted to its superior three-point shooting and floor spacing while Northwestern responded with tight zone defense and a balanced offensive attack. Northwestern took a 21-17 lead early in the quarter with two excellently designed layups.

If coach Joe McKeown takes any positives from this game, the early Northwestern momentum from the first half has to be first on the list. Powered by Lauren Douglas and a good shooting night from Ashley Deary, Northwestern’s offense ground out possessions and came up with good outcomes.

Then, DePaul’s ball movement and three-point shooting took command of the game as Northwestern’s offensive execution began to falter. Northwestern’s zone defense held up for much of the first half, but DePaul’s barrage of three-point shots began to take its toll. After a strange sequence in which the same ref called a series of traveling violations, Northwestern’s offensive rhythm collapsed. With Coffey out, the team came up empty on a series of possessions, allowing DePaul to enter the danger zone.

Pass, pass, avoid the switching player, three-pointer for DePaul’s Kelly Campbell. Breakaway down the court, kick out, pass, three-pointer for Claire McMahon. DePaul coach Steve Bruno’s offensive plan worked to perfection, with the Blue Demons’ spacing and passing generating plenty of easy looks.

“We just were terrible on offense for about 15 minutes,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “Then the team settled down and had a good end to the first half.”

DePaul, marshaled by point guard Jessica January, went on a devastating 13-1 run with 2:43 left in the second quarter. Suddenly, it seemed like the Blue Demons couldn’t miss. The Wildcats were just unable to make good shots with Coffey off the floor, and Northwestern entered the half down 38-30. DePaul took 21 threes and abandoned the paint down the stretch, but none of that mattered with its shooters hitting 38 percent from three in the first half.

“I thought perimeter-wise we’d done a pretty good job up to that point,” McKeown

Northwestern hadn’t shaken off the offensive rust by the third quarter. The first possession was a bad pass that instantly turned into a layup by DePaul’s Jacqui Grant. Northwestern managed to pull within 5 on a three from Lydia Rohde, but DePaul refused to miss enough three-point shots to leave the door open for the Wildcats. Whenever DePaul needed a key three or bucket, Millender or Campbell was there to hit the shot.

“When they got hot we couldn’t score and that was the hardest thing,” McKeown said.

DePaul finished the game off with another devastating run at the end of the third quarter. Jessica January summed up Northwestern’s night with a buzzer-beating three to end the third quarter with DePaul up 67-52. In the end, Northwestern could never muster enough defensive pressure to mount a serious run with DePaul shooting over 50 percent.

The fourth was a mop-up operation for the Blue Demons. Jessica January put on a show for the home fans, hitting contested shots and running an offensive clinic.

“Yeah, she should have come to Northwestern!” McKeown said. “She’s one of the best players in the Big East,” McKeown said.

Jones scored 13 of her 25 in the second half without missing a shot. Ashton Millender was the main beneficiary of Jones’ passing, hitting 3 three-pointers in the second half and putting the game out of reach with a three-pointer early in the quarter that put DePaul up 72-51. DePaul closed out the game with its bench unit and won 89-66.

While its hard to develop any lasting conclusions without Coffey, it’s clear that Northwestern will need to put in serious work if it wants to contend with the upper echelon of women’s college basketball right now. Northwestern lost the rebounding battle 43-33 and gave up 18 second-chance points with erased any ability for the Wildcats to come back.

DePaul was better than Northwestern on both sides of the ball, and it seemed like Northwestern had no answers for the Blue Demons in the last 23 minutes. Christen Inman had an off night, possibly due to the minor injury she picked up, and the offense couldn’t make up for all the missing production.

Northwestern will next face Florida in Evanston on November 25.