Northwestern is now 0-8 in Big Ten play, has not won a game in over a month and has often failed to even stay competitive in its seven contests during that span. That’s been a product of poor shooting (32% from the field last night!) and ball security (19 turnovers against OSU, which outscored the ‘Cats 25-7 off giveaways). Thursday night’s 30-point defeat to 19-0, No. 2 Ohio State was much of the same story. With that, here are three takeaways from NU’s second loss to the Buckeyes this season:
Northwestern has to start second halves stronger to give itself a fighting chance
The game script for Thursday’s game almost followed the Dec. 28 matchup between these teams in Evanston to a tee. Twice, the Buckeyes established themselves as the better squad in the first half and used lightning-quick first quarter runs to jump out to double-digit leads they would hold going into halftime. In both games, Northwestern didn’t immediately fold. However, OSU’s quick-hitting offense once again overwhelmed the ‘Cats early in the third quarter, as the Buckeyes were able to score 14 of their 27 third-quarter points in the paint.
This isn’t new for NU (see: Purdue, Iowa, DePaul, Notre Dame). Even in its comeback effort against Illinois, Northwestern didn’t significantly put a dent into the Illini’s 18-point cushion until the middle of the third quarter. Given the quality of opponent and how badly the ‘Cats have struggled recently, Ohio State’s dominance wasn’t especially shocking. Regardless, considering how unlikely it is that Joe McKeown’s squad will jump out to a huge lead on any Big Ten team, it’s going to need to put together early third-quarter runs to set the foundation for a comeback or close victory.
Paige Mott isn’t just a defensive piece, but also a potential top scoring option
All season long, McKeown has tinkered with the frontcourt, trying to defensively complement Caileigh Walsh to keep her out of foul trouble. In somewhat shocking fashion (looking back at the consensus preseason expectation, at least), that other forward hasn’t typically been Courtney Shaw; it’s been Mott. Coming off a game against Purdue where she played sparingly in crunch time, Mott proved to be much more than an interior defender against the Buckeyes.
The junior dropped a career-high 16 points and earned seven free throw attempts. She constantly drew defensive attention inside and was even able to get to the rim off the dribble a few times. On a night when Walsh went 1-of-8 from the field and the ‘Cats made just 2-of-13 threes, Mott’s presence buoyed the offense throughout the first half.
Her minutes have fluctuated during Big Ten play, but Mott has made significant two-way impacts in games where she’s played more than 20 minutes, particularly against Indiana and Michigan State. If she can consistently stay out of foul trouble and improve as a rebounder, it could go a long way.
It will (probably) get better than this
After Sunday’s game against No. 21 Illinois, Northwestern will finish a brutal stretch in which it faced six ranked opponents in eight games. From here on out, the only ranked team the Wildcats will have to play is No. 11 Maryland, and that Feb. 9 game is at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
That’s not to say NU will pull a jetpack out of its back pocket to skyrocket to the middle of the conference standings, but it has already played nine teams that are currently ranked (contributing to the fourth-highest strength of schedule against Division I teams in the entire country) and lost by an average margin of almost 25 points. In contrast, it hung with its two unranked conference opponents thus far — Michigan State and Purdue — deep into the fourth quarter.
Things should get a little better. Maybe not fringe tournament contender good, but certainly not 0-8 in the Big Ten, failing to cover the OSU -28.5 spread even with an 8-0 garbage time run to finish the game bad.