EVANSTON - Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win.
The Wildcats played three scratchy quarters on offense in Evanston, but Northwestern (17-5, 5-3 B1G) defended its home-court with a comfortable 63-43 win over Wisconsin (5-17, 0-9 B1G).
Northwestern played stifling defense and benefitted from an difficult offensive showing for the Badgers, who turned the ball over 22 times and shot 32.7 percent from the field. Wisconsin played energetically and much better than a team without a conference win, but couldn’t keep up. Northwestern picked up 20 points off those turnovers. Fittingly, that was also the margin of victory.
“It was great for us tonight to win the game and play great defense...To hold a Big Ten team to seven points in a quarter, that says it all,” Joe McKeown said.
It wasn’t all capitalizing on Wisconsin’s mistakes though. Nia Coffey struggled with foul trouble all game but still regained her offensive form and scored 15 points in just 22 minutes. Amber Jamison continued her three-point sharpshooting with 11 points on a 3-of-4 night from beyond the arc. Christen Inman scored 14 and played great defense all night, but she left with an concerning injury late in the fourth.
The game got off to a very slow start as neither offense could generate scoring opportunities. The first five minutes featured just seven points, but thankfully it was a 5-2 lead in favor of the Wildcats. Northwestern managed to create some team offense and get Nia Coffey to 7 points by the end of the quarter. However, Coffey picked up two fouls just before the first quarter ended with a 13-7 Northwestern lead.
Although they were without Coffey for much of the second quarter thanks to a third foul, the Wildcats managed to extend their lead to 10 by the end of the period. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s defense stayed tough and limited Wisconsin to just five made field goals in the first half. An Amber Jamison three with five minutes remaining the in half made the game 21-14. Wisconsin was scoreless for the last seven minutes of the quarter and Northwestern exited with a 24-14 lead.
The slow scoring pace continued in the second half but Northwestern maintained a healthy advantage over the Badgers. A Kendra Van Leeuwen three-pointer cut the Northwestern lead to five early in the quarter, but Northwestern went on a bruising 9-0 run to regain its dominance over proceedings. Ashley Deary’s three with 3:51 remaining extended the lead to 14. Wisconsin managed to make it back to 39-29 by the end of the quarter, but showed little offensive capability to mount a full comeback.
Northwestern’s offense finally picked up some steam in the fourth quarter even though Coffey picked up her fourth foul in the first minute. With Wisconsin continuing to commit turnovers and miss shots, Northwestern extended the lead to 55-36 with four minutes to go and closed it out for a 63-43 victory.
“Until the fourth quarter we didn’t get a lot of transition points off our defense,” McKeown said. “Tonight we did a really good job getting the ball reversed, getting passes, we got out an ran. We hit some big shots. I thought Ashley Deary, she played 39.9 [minutes], she did a good job controlling the floor.”
However, Northwestern suffered a big blow to its starting lineup with 5:24 remaining in the fourth. Christen Inman took a hard fall and had to receive treatment on the bench. With the game well in hand, she did not return. Inman has already missed several games in her senior season and she needs to stay healthy if Northwestern’s struggling offense is going to improve.
Northwestern next faces Penn State at Welsh-Ryan on February 5th.