The No. 2 Wildcats (13-3, 5-1 B1G) have this week to refocus and regroup after suffering a 15-9 loss to the No. 5 Maryland Terrapins (14-1, 5-0 B1G) before heading to Big Ten Tournament at Rutgers next weekend. They will likely be the No. 2 seed, facing either Penn State or Johns Hopkins, with the possibility of a rematch with the Terps in the championship game. Here are my three takeaways from NU’s uncharacteristic loss in College Park:
Northwestern fans have become accustomed to seeing the Wildcats’ high-powered offense. However, in the loss, only seven players scored — a lower number than NU usually produces. For context, in its last two conference matchups against Johns Hopkins and Rutgers, Northwestern had nine and 10 different goal-scorers, respectively. Of the seven from Saturday, only graduate student Jill Girardi scored more than a single goal, and her three didn’t come until the second half.
Additionally, the team altogether tallied only two assists against the Terps. In previous games, some of the team’s best scoring plays came when the ball was passed at least two or three times between players before being shot. Especially when the passes occur in transition with the speed so many of these players obtain, the Wildcats are much harder to stop allowing them to create an offensive spark.
Northwestern didn’t score more than nine goals in all three of its losses this year, and they didn’t post particularly high assist numbers in those games either. When the ‘Cats can’t seem to crack the double-digit mark, which is rare, it’s often because they are rushing goal-scoring opportunities, which then creates turnovers. With this week off, Northwestern will need to focus on patience in the offensive third and working the ball around the arc so no other team can take advantage of turnovers and missed shots.
Now, this is also a category that is not normally a weakness for this team. Girardi has been dominant in the circle, but this weekend she only tallied seven grabs. Her lowest this season came at six in NU’s loss to then-No. 2 North Carolina. That being said, while Girardi often has success in the circle, it’s worth noting that Northwestern also has depth in this role. If things aren’t happening for her at the draw, the ‘Cats have fantastic options to back her up.
Whether it’s her fellow graduate student teammates Brennan Dwyer or Lauren Gilbert, or even first-year Sammy White, other players have had success in the circle earlier this season and in seasons past. Even if Girardi is able to find success in the circle, she has shown she’s equally as dangerous on the scoring front. Again, she led all Wildcat scorers on Saturday with three goals in an outing where offensive momentum was difficult to come by. Because so many teams know her approach at the draw now, as Maryland showed by limiting her last weekend, allowing her to attack more on goal may be an option we see the ‘Cats utilize more often.
Though most of their performances seem dominant by the final scoreline, the ‘Cats are not strangers to a slow first half. They played catch-up throughout several contests this season, including their turning-point win against then-No. 3 Syracuse. Saturday, they fell behind to the Terrapins 3-1 early, and while they were able to tie the game at three with five minutes remaining in the first quarter, the ‘Cats started running out of steam trying to catch up and never overtook the lead.
By halftime, they were down five goals and didn’t come out firing nearly as much as Maryland was — a lot of which was due to trouble in the draw circle. While the ‘Cats have largely been a second-half team, they were so far behind the Terps by the end of the first that momentum didn’t shift come the second frame. This was in stark contrast to Northwestern’s prior game against Johns Hopkins when they were able to break deficit and extend their own lead to seven when the Blue Jays couldn’t get a goal of their own across after the break. Therefore, it’s important the ‘Cats come out of the gates strong in the postseason to ensure they close out their matchups comfortably.