A change of Chicago scenery from the shores of Lake Michigan to downtown was all it took for the Wildcats to snap their three-game losing streak.
Northwestern (5-5, 0-1 B1G) earned a much-needed victory against UIC (8-2, 0-0 MVC), winning 66-62 despite shooting trouble for both squads. It was a competitive matchup marked by physical defense and free throws that could have gone either way, but in the fourth quarter, the ‘Cats gained momentum on an 11-point run that set them apart from the Flames.
Caileigh Walsh led the scoring effort with 18 points, and Sydney Wood was close behind with 15. For the Flames, Ky Dempsey-Toney contributed 16, while Jaida McCloud added 15. The seesaw battle saw 30 turnovers, 14 lead changes and not a lot of baskets. The ‘Cats were 22-for-52 on field goals and made only one three-pointer, while the Flames were 18-for-58 shooting and made three triples.
Both teams had slow offensive starts with aggressive defense causing missed shots. The Flames got onto the board within the first 30 seconds but didn’t score again until nearly five minutes later to equalize the score at four. Between the UIC baskets, Paige Mott and Walsh scored for Northwestern.
NU retook the lead on a jump shot from Caroline Lau and extended it with baskets from Wood and Mott to make the score 10-4.
In the remaining minutes, the Flames seemed to fire up. At the 1:15 mark, Josie Filer made both free throw attempts for UIC’s first basket in over three minutes and just second since its opening possession. With just seven seconds left, UIC gained another free throw attempt to bring the score to 10-7 and close in on Northwestern.
Neither team was able to sink any threes in the first 10 minutes, as NU and UIC were just 5-for-15 and 2-for-10, respectively, on field goals.
After the ‘Cats scored in the second quarter, Kristian Young made the first three-pointer of the game for the Flames, denoting NU just a two-point lead of 12-10. Lau added another point to the board, making one of two free throws after three turnovers between the Chicago teams.
UIC tied the game at 13-13 with a three-pointer, the second of the day and for the Flames, and unleashed offensive drives for both sides. However, the Wildcats quickly rebounded, as Jasmine McWilliams made a layup and free throw to bring the score to 16-13. Ky Dempsey-Toney and Danyel Middleton scored for UIC and Walsh made a hook shot for NU, narrowing down the Northwestern lead 18-17.
The Flames then tied the score on a free throw and retook the lead for the first time since they led 2-0. Walsh, however, put the ‘Cats on her back in an explosive 33 seconds, sinking two free throws and a three-pointer for a 23-20 lead.
Northwestern spent much of the first half ahead, but in the reaming two minutes, UIC took a 26-24 lead. The Flames made two layups before Walsh tied the game on a free throw, but with just 17 seconds left, Anna Morris fouled to give the Flames two free throws — an opportunity they capitalized on.
The first half was marked by back-and-forth play. There may have been only four lead changes with NU managing to stay ahead for most of the first 20 minutes, but its lead was never safe. There were 16 turnovers — eight for each team, and both defenses challenged the offense, keeping solid shots from being taken.
Before NU even had its first shot of the second half, UIC posted four attempts and sank a basket on the last one. Right after, Walsh and Wood responded to even the score at 28-28. After almost two scoreless minutes, Northwestern retook the lead and extended it with shots from Mott and Wood.
Just as NU was looking to get further ahead with the momentum of making the last six points, UIC sank another three-pointer to make the score 32-31. Both teams added two-points to the board before a timeout.
The Flames then regained the lead for the first time since the half began on a layup and added two points on free throws soon after. The three-point lead was quickly erased, though, as Walsh and Kaylah Rainey each made two free throws to give the ‘Cats a one-point advantage at 38-37.
The third quarter ended tied at 40-40 after three Dempsey-Toney free throws, bringing the game down to the final 10 minutes on an equal playing field.
Mott scored first to give Northwestern a temporary lead before UIC sank a basket for the tenth tie of the night. Wood then scored on a layup and free throw, followed by Mott, Wood and Jillian Brown on subsequent drives for a 51-42 lead — the biggest of the game at that point.
Following the timeout, NU kept up the momentum. Wood made two free throws to continue the Wildcats’ 11-point run before the Flames scored again, bringing the game to 53-44.
Scoring was stalled for over three minutes until Wood made a layup at the 3:06 mark. The Flames responded with another three points before Mott scored again to preserve the lead at 56-47.
With less than two minutes left, the ‘Cats may have thought they were in the clear, but the Flames were not giving up just yet. UIC managed another eight points while NU only had three, rendering the score 59-55 in the remaining 45 seconds.
Lau was fouled seconds later and made one of two free throws to extend Northwestern’s advantage to five points. Brown, however, fouled soon after, bringing UIC to the free throw line. The Flames just needed a three to then tie the game at 60, but a timely foul played into the Wildcats’ favor. Brown hit both free throws, which proved to be pivotal as UIC made three of four free throws as the clock wound down.
With just five seconds left after the Flames’ last free throw, the ‘Cats were then brought to the line, where Rainey made two in a row to nearly guarantee a win. UIC made a layup, but in the aftermath, NU was fouled, giving Brown the chance to add another two points to the score. The 66-62 victory marks Northwestern’s sixth straight win against the Flames.
Northwestern returns to Evanston to battle Air Force Saturday at 6 p.m. CT.