Northwestern (14-9, 3-8 Big Ten) finally snapped a five-game losing streak with a 69-59 win at Illinois (8-14, 1-10 Big Ten) on Thursday night behind a double-double from Nia Coffey. After weeks of defensive incompetency, Northwestern held Illinois to just 31.8 percent from the field and 0.77 points per possession.
The game started very well for Northwestern as the Wildcats jumped out to a 19-7 lead after the first quarter of play. Illinois did not shoot well in the first quarter, but Northwestern’s defense collapsed in the second quarter as Illinois roared back and took a five point lead at halftime. Illinois' Chatrice White and Kennedy Cattenhead were able to stifle Northwestern's offense as the Wildcats only scored 8 points in the quarter.
But Northwestern was able to fight back and retake the lead by the end of the third quarter thanks to a flurry of points from Christen Inman and Nia Coffey. Illinois' hot shooting in the second quarter disappeared and Northwestern built up a 4-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Illinois felt the loss of Alex Wittinger, its third leading scorer, as the Fighting Illini had no answer for Coffey and Inman.
Northwestern had failed to close out four fourth quarter leads heading into this game, but the team finally broke out of its late-game slump with a strong finish. After falling apart defensively in the fourth quarter against Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa, Northwestern held Illinois to 17 points in the fourth and outscore the Illini 23-17.
Nia Coffey and Christen Inman continue to be spectacular
Despite Northwestern’s mostly disappointing season, Nia Coffey is still churning out productive games. She gave Illinois’ defense fits for the entire game and finished with 13 rebounds and 20 points. She also shot an efficient 58.8 percent from the field despite having a high usage percentage of 24.13 percent. Coffey is probably headed toward another All-Big Ten season and is indispensable for this team right now.
Christen Inman took the most shots of anyone on Northwestern and also scored 20 points. If she can develop a reliable three-point shot (0 for 5 from three in this game), Inman shoots well enough from midrange to be as dangerous as Coffey in terms of scoring. She’s improved greatly this year and will be a key part of this team’s offense once Maggie Lyon graduates.
Northwestern doesn’t get into early foul trouble, finally
Northwestern has been badly hampered by foul trouble during this losing streak, but tonight the team avoided playing stretches without its best players on the floor. That proved to be the difference as the Wildcats fought back against Illinois in the third quarter. If Northwestern wants to go on a run in February, it will have to avoid repeatedly getting into foul trouble. When Coffey, Lyon and Inman can play the entire game, Northwestern is much better off, even if the team still did not hit its full offensive potential in this game.
Northwestern closes out a game at last
Illinois is not a very good basketball team, especially without its third leading scorer. However, Northwestern finally managed to hold a fourth quarter lead and end its five-game losing streak. Northwestern played fairly well defensively outside of the disastrous second quarter, even if Illinois did shoot under 30 percent from the field. Still, the Northwestern women finally managed to hold on and win a relatively close game on the road. This was Northwestern's first road win since the UNC game, and the win will give a morale boost to the team heading into its rematch against Rachel Banham's Minnesota team this weekend.