Too little, too late. Despite a huge fourth quarter comeback in which Northwestern (18-17) scored 35 points, the Wildcats fell to San Diego (24-7) 69-65 Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Leading the way for Northwestern was Nia Coffey who had yet another double-double with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks. Ashley Deary had 23 points and 3 assists as well. For San Diego, Malina Hood had 20 points and 7 rebounds, while her sister Maya Hood had 12 points and 13 rebounds. The play of Katherine Hamilton and Cori Woodward was also vital for the Toreros as they each scored 15.
This loss eliminates Northwestern from the WNIT and ends the 2015-16 campaign. After starting 11-1 and being ranked as high as No. 12 in the AP poll, the Wildcats had a disappointing 4-14 conference season and finished 12th in the Big Ten. A surprising run to the semifinals in the Big Ten Tournament allowed Northwestern to qualify for the WNIT, but they were just unable to keep pace with San Diego on Thursday.
"You really got to look towards the future," said Head Coach Joe McKeown. "We started five people, no seniors tonight, so everyone that played is returning. We have some other players, recruiting class coming in, so I think the future’s really bright."
At the start of the game, Nia Coffey picked up right where she left off in the Big Ten Tournament. She hit 3 of her first 4 shots for a quick 6 points. However, Northwestern wouldn't do much else in the quarter, shooting 4-of-15 and only scoring 8 points. San Diego started slow as well, scoring only 7 points in the first five minutes. But they ended the quarter on an 11-2 run which included three pointers from Sydney Williams and Katherine Hamilton. At the end of a sluggish first quarter, San Diego led 18-8.
In the second quarter Northwestern shored up its defense, holding San Diego to only 4 of 14 shooting, but three of those four shots were three pointers. Williams hit one to start the quarter and then Malina Hood hit two straight to give San Diego a 13 point lead. Jordan Hankins and Lydia Rohde both hit jumpers late in the quarter to cut the deficit, but Northwestern still trailed at half 32-23. Coffey and Deary combined for 17 of Northwestern's 23 points.
San Diego came out of the half firing. Two straight three pointers from Cori Woodward helped the Toreros open the quarter on an 8-0 run and extend their lead to 17. For the rest of the quarter, Northwestern would try in vain to dig itself out of a massive hole. Every occasional mini-run from the Wildcats was answered by the Toreros. Northwestern only hit one field goal in the quarter, scoring 7 points. Heading into the final quarter of the season, the Wildcats trailed 48-30.
However, the fourth quarter was a complete shift for Northwestern. After trailing by as much as 21 early on, the Wildcats ripped off a 13-0 run to cut the deficit to 8. Northwestern finally received scoring from multiple players as Jordan Hankins and Lydia Rohde contributed 7 of the 13 points. The Wildcats would cut the lead down to 2 using an extended 25-9 run. Northwestern scored 35 points in the fourth, more than they had scored in the first three quarters combined. However it would prove to be a bridge too far, as San Diego managed to hit just enough free throws down the stretch and leave with a 69-65 victory.
Getting bench scoring has been a problem all season, but in the Big Ten Tournament the Wildcats managed to get big contributions from players like Jordan Hankins and Allie Tuttle. On Thursday they got very little from anyone not named Ashley Deary or Nia Coffey. The two juniors combined for 43 of Northwestern's 65 points in the game while no one else scored in double digits. The loss of Maggie Lyon finally caught up to the Wildcats as they could have definitely used her 16.5 points per game. Hankins and Rohde contributed 7 points during Northwestern's late 13-0 run, but that came too late as the early deficit was simply too large.
Three Pointers Galore
It's tough to beat a team when they shoot 50 percent from three and that's just what San Diego did on Thursday. The Toreros shot 7 of 14 from three but started the game 4-of-7. San Diego hit three-pointers to pull away early and then used timely three-pointers to keep Northwestern at arms length throughout the game.
"They were big threes too. You get it down to three or four they drill one, they hit a couple back to back ones that hurt us," said McKeown. "We have not been a great three point shooting team, we’ve been streaky. We’ve had games where we’ve struggled a bit. Not to have Maggie, the greatest three point shooter in Northwestern history, to stretch things out really gave San Diego a chance to make it really congested."
The Wildcats' zone defense was not bad overall, but sometimes the opposing team is just on fire from deep.
Good Defense, Bad Offense
Northwestern has had quite a few games this season where their defense has been subpar, but today was not one of them. For the most part the Wildcat's zone defense got the stops it needed and they forced 21 San Diego turnovers. However, Northwestern just could not score for large stretches of the game and that was what proved to be their downfall.
"We couldn’t make shots, we couldn’t get out in transition because they were scoring," said McKeown. "We just couldn’t get to the rim, we played a lot of east-west instead of north-south."
The Wildcats scored in single digits in both the first and third quarter with 8 and 7 respectively. Despite a massive offensive effort in the fourth quarter, they scored 30 points, only scoring 30 points in the first three quarters created too big of a hole for Northwestern to escape.