INDIANAPOLIS - It wasn't pretty but at this point in the season all that matters for Northwestern (16-15, 4-14 Big Ten) is to win and they did so Wednesday, defeating Wisconsin (7-22, 3-15) 76-72 in overtime in the first round of the Big Ten women's basketball tournament.
"Just a wild basketball game... but I think the difference was that my backcourt, Ashley and Christen, just played through everything," head coach Joe McKeown said. "They took our team through the adversity of whatever situation."
Thirteenth-seeded Wisconsin started out strong with an and-1 on its first possession of the game, but it was all downhill offensively for both teams after that. The Wildcats and Badgers each started the game 1 of 6 from the field and did not raise their percentages much over the course of the quarter. Northwestern ended up 8 of 21 while Wisconsin was 7 of 21 in the opening period. This led to a relatively low scoring quarter, with Wisconsin taking a one point advantage, 18-17. Michala Johnson was dominant down low for the Badgers as she scored 9 of their 18 first quarter points.
Johnson would continue her domination in the second quarter, scoring another 7 points, and head into half as the leading scorer with 16 points and 4 rebounds. Not much else would go right for either team in the quarter however. Each team only scored 15 points, but while Wisconsin shot 50 percent from the field, Northwestern, the No. 12 seed, only shot 30 percent.
Luckily for the Wildcats three of their six made shots were three-pointers. Jordan Hankins managed to keep Northwestern in it towards the end of the first half, just as things looked like they were slipping away. She hit two straight three pointers following a stretch where Northwestern was 1 of 8 from the field. But a late Johnson jumper gave Wisconsin the lead heading into the half at 33-32. The back-and-forth half saw 12 lead changes.
The third quarter is where it all began to fall apart for the Wildcats. Northwestern did not score for the first five minutes of the quarter which allowed the Wisconsin lead to balloon to 10. Back-to-back three-pointers from Nia Coffey and Lydia Rohde cut the Badger lead to 7, and it would sit right around there for the rest of the quarter. Northwestern would get as close as two, but head into the fourth down four after a Christen Inman three pointer.
Northwestern found a pulse in the final period. After a seesaw first couple of minutes Northwestern ripped off a quick 9-2 run to take a 60-59 lead with 6:33 left in the game. Then the offense all but stopped once again for both sides. With Nia Coffey fouling out with around 3 minutes left and Maggie Lyon not suiting up, the Wildcats were not left with many options on offense.
"We kept rotating people in. We played five guards at one point," McKeown said on his strategy after Coffey fouled out.
Wisconsin went cold from the floor as well. A Christen Inman layup with 20 seconds left tied the game, and after Wisconsin couldn't get a shot off the game headed to overtime.
The overtime was essentially a microcosm for the entire game. Only three field goals were made but Northwestern managed to take a 71-69 lead on an Amber Jamison jumper with 55 seconds left in the game. Then Northwestern, the Big Ten's worst free throw shooting team, hit 7 of 8 down the stretch to ice the game.
"Jordan Hankins was made two big plays in overtime...just proud of her," Joe McKeown said.
Ashley Deary was, again, rock solid for Northwestern down the stretch as she took control of the offense with Coffey out and basically willed the Wildcats to victory. Deary finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
This win keeps Northwestern alive in the Big Ten Tournament as they will take on Minnesota tomorrow in the second game of the day, starting around 1:30 p.m. CT. It improves their record to 16-15 on the season and keeps them alive for a possible Women's NIT bid and an NCAA Tournament bid (if the team wins out and grabs an automatic spot).