EVANSTON - On Senior Day at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern broke its four-game slide with a comfortable 66-53 win over Illinois.
After two weeks of poor offense and a tough three-game road trip, Northwestern (18-9, 7-7 B1G) badly needed a win against Illinois (8-19, 3-11 B1G). The Wildcats got the job done behind a balanced scoring attack from its all-senior starting lineup. Christen Inman, Ashley Deary and Nia Coffey all scored in double-digits and took home a satisfying win on their afternoon at Welsh-Ryan.
“This was very crucial just in terms of team morale and getting a win under our belt,” Ashley Deary said. “We’d never won on Senior Day so it was definitely nice to get that on our Senior Day. It was just special, getting back to our old selves, attacking the basket, being aggressive and knocking down shots.”
Deary set the tone for the game by hitting a three on Northwestern’s first possession. Thanks to good defense and solid shooting, Northwestern built up a 15-9 lead after Coffey converted an and-1 with 1:31 left in the quarter. Illinois would cut the lead back down to 17-13 by the end of the first, but Northwestern reestablished its advantage in the second. An Inman three with 2:02 remaining in the second put the Wildcats up 32-20 and they closed out the quarter up 36-23.
Northwestern’s offensive struggles were alleviated by Illinois’ lack of an inside presence. Northwestern scored 20 points in the paint and also scored 15 points off turnovers. The third quarter saw more of the same as Illinois’ offense struggled to get going early on. Northwestern built up a 44-28 lead midway through the period, and although Illinois was able to get it to a manageable 47-39 deficit by the end of the quarter, the damage was already done.
Northwestern’s seniors closed out their penultimate game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, with Inman, Deary and Coffey combining for 17 of the Wildcats’ 19 points in the fourth. The seniors scored 48 of Northwestern’s 66 points, a familiar share of the workload for the team’s veterans.
But for Allie Tuttle, Christen Inman, Ashley Deary, Lauren Douglas and Nia Coffey, the afternoon meant much more. The group had never picked up a win on previous Senior Days, and this win felt much more important than your usual home game.
“I had the opportunity to recruit all five of them...and the impact they’ve had on Northwestern women’s basketball is incredible,” Joe McKeown said. “Just the kind of people they are in the student-athlete concept, academically, what they’ve done in the community—it’s hard for me to envision coaching a game without them.”
The victory takes Northwestern back to .500 for the Big Ten regular season and back into a tie for ninth place in the Big Ten with Iowa. However, the win may not be enough to bolster Northwestern’s fading hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid after the four-game losing streak.
Northwestern’s next game will be against Rutgers on February 23rd. It will be the final Northwestern women’s basketball game before Welsh-Ryan undergoes renovations for 2017-18.