Northwestern women's basketball made things interesting in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats were unable to complete a late comeback as they fell to Michigan 70-65.
Northwestern (15-14, 3-14 in conference) fell behind in the third quarter as Michigan (17-11, 9-8 in conference) stormed ahead behind 22 points from Hallie Thome.
Northwestern received a monster game from Nia Coffey, as the junior piled up 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks, and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. Maggie Lyon's possible final home game for Northwestern did not go as well, however, she did not hit a three and finished with 7 points.
"It was a hard-nosed Big Ten game," said head coach Joe McKeown after the game. "We just couldn't make enough plays when we had chances."
The first quarter was back-and-forth as neither team could get much going offensively in the first 5 minutes. Christen Inman scored Northwestern's first points with an easy layup, but Michigan responded to take an early 8-4 lead. Nia Coffey had two monster blocks in the first six minutes that electrified the crowd and the Northwestern bench. Northwestern tied the game at 8-8 midway through the quarter. Coffey then scored 6 more points and led Northwestern to a 14-13 lead.
The fast-paced entertainment of the first quarter continued into the second as Northwestern and Michigan continued to trade blows. Coffey had two more blocks but surprisingly it was Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah who sparked Northwestern's offense, scoring 4 straight points to give Northwestern a 22-20 lead. However, Michigan took advantage of its 12 first-half offensive rebounds to go into halftime with a 30-25 lead. Despite entering the game with the second-best three-point percentage in the Big Ten, Michigan went 2-8 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Michigan kept Northwestern at bay to start the third quarter as Northwestern was unable to get stops on defense. After a 4-0 mini-run, head coach Joe McKeown called timeout with Northwestern down by 9 points. However, the team was unable to respond effectively as Michigan maintained control of the game. Northwestern entered the fourth quarter down 50-39.
The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to begin the fourth quarter to cut the lead to four points. Michigan battled back and restored its advantage to 10 points with 2:53 remaining thanks to two clutch free throws from Hallie Thome. However, the Wildcats came back yet again and cut the lead to 4 with under a minute remaining on the first of two Maggie Lyon free throws. But Lyon missed the next free throw and Michigan drew a foul on the other end.
Michigan hit all but one of its free throws in crunch time, preventing the Wildcats from mounting any significant comeback. Madison Ristovski missed a free throw with less than ten seconds remaining and Lydia Rohde hit two free throws on the other end to make it a one possession game. However, Siera Thompson drained both free throws for Michigan and the Wolverines held on for a 70-65 victory. Northwestern faces Nebraska on Sunday in the final regular season game of the season.
Northwestern forced Michigan into 23 turnovers this game, infuriating Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in the process. Those turnovers resulted in 30 points for Northwestern. Michigan just stepped out of bounds on multiple occasions. The Wolverines' passing was not exactly crisp either. While Northwestern probably gave up some points due to aggressive gambling on defense, the Wildcats were able to make up for it by scoring when given the opportunity.
"We knew going into the game we could attack in transition," said Ashley Deary, who finished with 6 steals.
Michigan's numerous mistakes were a big reason Northwestern was able to stay in the game even as the offense began to stall.
Inefficient offense hurts Northwestern
Northwestern's points per possession on offense was hovering around 0.8 in the third quarter, which is not ideal. Northwestern spent much of the game taking shots from long range, even though Nia Coffey and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah were torching Michigan inside. Inman and Lyon both shot uncharacteristically poorly going a combined 8 for 24 from the field. Northwestern came into the game 13th in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage and the team went 9 for 15 from the free throw line, which came back to haunt the team in the fourth quarter. Overall, Northwestern's offense needs to work on generating better shots.
Deary’s Strange Game
Ashley Deary has put up some pretty incredible stat lines this season, including a few game where she flirted with a triple double, but Tuesday’s was one of her weirdest. Deary did not score in the first half, but had 9 assists and 3 steals. She would pick up her scoring a bit in the second half, but her assist numbers would go down. She would finish with 8 points, 11 assists and 6 steals. She also set the Big Ten single season record for steals, a small silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season.