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Nia Coffey’s top five individual performances as a Wildcat

On the day of the WNBA Draft, we stroll through memory lane.

The best player to ever put on the uniform hits a game-winner.
Northwestern Athletics YouTube

Nia Coffey had no shortage of incredible performances in her marvelous career.

You don’t get to 2,200 points and 1,100 rebounds without consistently being one of the best players on the court. Coffey had 32 double-doubles in 64 games played during her final two years at Northwestern. From her sophomore year to this past season, she had a stretch of scoring in double-figures for 66 straight games.

Still, even with a constant dominance unmatched in Northwestern basketball history, Coffey had some games that somehow went above even her lofty standards. On several special nights, Coffey went into another gear and was simply unstoppable.

Here are the five best individual performances of her career.

5. 26 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals against No. 16 Florida in 2016-17

Northwestern came into the 2016-17 season, Coffey’s senior year, looking to bounce back from a dreadful campaign the year prior. Coach Joe McKeown had assembled a non-conference schedule with more legitimate tests than usual, and the Wildcats, projected as a bubble team, figured to need a couple big early wins for their RPI. One of those challenges came in the form of a tough Florida team that had been a 5-seed in the 2015-16 NCAA Tournament.

Having been out with injury for the team’s previous game, a blowout loss to No. 20 DePaul, Coffey was ready for this one. The senior came out and scored 20 points in the first half to help the Wildcats keep pace with the Gators. Coffey had five of her six assists and a crucial late block in the second half as Northwestern pulled out a big 73-68 victory.

4. 35 points, 8 rebounds and 4 threes against Iowa in 2014-15

Let’s go back to Coffey’s sophomore season, the year Northwestern broke through and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. It’s late January, and after an 11-0 start to the season, the Wildcats are just 4-5 in their past nine games and off to a very average 4-4 start to Big Ten play. Then, all of a sudden, Iowa comes out in the first half at Welsh-Ryan Arena and hits 14 threes to jump out to a 58-41 lead. It would’ve been an even bigger margin if not for Coffey’s 18 first-half points.

After the break, Iowa hits a couple more threes and is up 24 points with 18 minutes left. Then Coffey starts to take over again. She scores 17 more in the second half and leads Northwestern’s defensive turnaround as the Wildcats — who also get huge second halves from Maggie Lyon and Ashley Deary — come all the way back and fall just short, 102-99. Despite the loss, this was a min-boggling performance from the second-year Coffey and the 35 points remain and four threes would remain career highs. Oh, and the second half comeback sparked an eight-game win streak after this loss. More on that in a second.

3. 26 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in 2015-16

As I mentioned earlier, the 2015-16 season stunk. Returning the four leading scorers from that Tournament team, expectations were through the roof for Coffey’s junior season (sidenote: this better not happen to the men’s team next year). Then Lauren Douglas got hurt and the team never gelled on the defensive end without Alex Cohen and Karly Roser. The result was a 4-14 record in conference play. It was not fun. What was fun, though, was that somehow, someway, the team put it all together in Indianapolis.

Northwestern entered the 2015-16 Big Ten Tournament as the No. 12 seed. After scoring 18 to help the Wildcats narrowly escape No. 13 Wisconsin, Coffey dropped 25 and 12 against Rachel Banham and No. 5 Minnesota to advance to the semifinals. Her follow-up performance in the quarterfinals was even better. Coffey came out determined yet again, dominating the paint on both ends in another win-or-go-home scenario. The most impressive thing about her performance was the sheer intensity of several of her blocks, one of which is featured below (skip to 0:35).

Northwestern pulled out a 79-73 win. Coffey then scored 31 of her team’s 62 points in a blowout loss against top-seeded Maryland (Coffey was a career 0-7 against the Terps) to end what had been a captivating, miraculous run. I’ll never forget being in Indianapolis to watch Coffey score a tournament-record 100 points in four days. The Indiana game gets the nod here because of her defense and the fact it was the most efficient of those three performances and the most triumphant victory.

2. 25 points, 11 rebounds and a game-winner at Michigan in 2014-15

Okay, back to a fun season. Northwestern heads into Ann Arbor having won four in a row since that Iowa near-comeback. Down 13 late in the first half, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy. Down 62-61 with Iowa heading to the line with Michigan heading to the line for two shots, it still appeared that way. Then the Wolverines missed both free throws and Coffey gave us the signature play of her career. (Skip to 1:35 in the video).

Coffey’s coast-to-coast layup extended the streak to five. The Wildcats would then win three more in a row, sealing up an NCAA berth. Coffey was fantastic all game against Michigan, hitting 11 of 20 shots and adding 3 steals and 3 blocks on defense. And when people are looking back at Coffey’s career in 20 years, I hope they see that play. It summed her up. That combination of speed and athleticism with control and skill probably won’t come around again for a long, long time.

1. 34 points and 8 rebounds in the Big Ten Tournament against Iowa in 2016-17

Accuse me of recency bias if you want, but I firmly believe the last win of Coffey’s career required the single greatest performance of her career. Having lost 5 of 7 games down the stretch under obviously tragic circumstances, Northwestern was clearly on the wrong side of the bubble to start the Big Ten Tournament for a second straight year. Simply put, Coffey wasn’t ready for the season to be over.

I vividly remember watching this game on TV and being awed by how much better she was than anyone else on the court. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Iowa did not have a single player capable of guarding her. Coffey made 15 two-point shots, virtually all of which came in the paint over multiple defenders. She used her superior strength, agility and technique to flat-out dominate in a game Northwestern won 78-73. It was the ultimate Nia Coffey performance in a career filled with them. I can’t wait to watch her ball out in the WNBA.