In her final trip to her home state as a college basketball player, Nia Coffey put on a show.
The senior scored 33 points, picked up 10 boards and recorded two blocks, but Northwestern (17-8, 6-6 B1G) lost 71-61 to Minnesota (14-12, 5-8 B1G) despite a massive third quarter comeback that made it a game. The loss further sets back Northwestern’s hopes at making the NCAA Tournament, as the Wildcats now need at least a four-game win streak to close the season to reach 21 wins.
But Coffey tried her best to stave off defeat on Monday night. She took 26 shots and made all 12 of her free throws. Minnesota’s Carlie Wagner answered with 25 points of her own, and Northwestern could not keep up in the fourth quarter.
The start of the game was yet another offensive struggle for the Wildcats. The Wildcats played decent defense and limited Minnesota to 15 points in the first quarter but could only muster 10 points of their own. The score was stuck at 15-10 Minnesota for the final 2:51 of the quarter as neither team could gain a solid footing on offense.
Northwestern fell further behind in the second quarter as the offense seized up yet again. Northwestern managed to cut the lead to 23-20 on a Coffey jumper with 5:11 left but then scored two points until halftime. Minnesota used this slump to take an 11-2 run that put the Golden Gophers up 34-22.
Then, Northwestern’s offense suddenly woke up, fueled by Coffey’s extraordinary efforts. It’s never fair to say one player was the entire team, but in this case, it’s justified. Coffey ended with over half of Northwestern’s total offense and scored 14 points in the third quarter alone, which was more than Northwestern had scored as a team in any of its previous six quarters. It was an incredible stretch, and a Christen Inman midrange jumper made it 48-46 Northwestern heading into the fourth.
But then, bad Northwestern showed up once again. This time, the defense, which had held firm and kept Minnesota at 12 points in the third, finally gave in. Minnesota ground its way back into the lead on a Jasmine Brunson jumper with 8:37 remaining. Despite Coffey’s best efforts, Minnesota would not relinquish the advantage and was able to close out the game on the free throw stripe.
The loss puts Northwestern on the outside looking in heading into the final four games of the season. Northwestern will surely need wins at Iowa and Purdue as well as a win in the Big Ten Tournament to rally for an NCAA Tournament berth. If 30-plus points per game Coffey shows up against Iowa, Northwestern may have a chance, but the Wildcats wasted a stunning effort and a chance to get back into the picture.
Northwestern plays at Iowa on February 16.