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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern drops close matchup 67-64 against Illini

Northwestern’s Big Ten troubles continue in a deflating loss.

Northwestern Athletics

The losing streak continues.

Northwestern (6-13, 0-9) fell 67-64 to No. 21 Illinois (16-4, 5-4) on Sunday afternoon, making for its eighth consecutive loss. The ‘Cats hoped for a better outcome than earlier in the month when the Illini bested them, but it was another close loss that could have gone either way. All four quarters were fast-paced, with neither team ever getting comfortably ahead.

Northwestern’s two leading scorers each had less than Illinois’. Paige Mott and Sydney Wood had 13 and 12 for the ‘Cats, respectively, while Wood also added five assists and a pair of blocks and steals each. For the Illini, Genesis Bryant scored 18, Kendall Bostic totaled 16 with 13 rebounds and Makira Cook had 14. The well-contested game featured 28 turnovers and 10 lead changes.

Illinois may have won the tip-off, but Northwestern got on the board first with a layup from Mott, following a steal by Caileigh Walsh. The Illini and the ‘Cats went back and forth, equalizing the score at four until Illinois made two more shots to take an 8-4 lead.

Northwestern didn’t fall far behind, keeping up the fast-paced first quarter. Kaylah Rainey and Walsh sunk back-to-back threes to put NU back ahead 10-8. Like most of the leads within the first 10 minutes, it was quickly erased by Bostic. Following the three-pointer from Walsh and then shots from Mott and Walsh again, Bostic scored to tie the game. The game remained even at 14 for over two minutes until the Illini scored on a layup, but two free throws by Jillian Brown erased the difference. Before the highly competitive quarter ended, Illinois took a 18-16 lead.

After five possession changes in over two and a half minutes, the Illini sank the first basket of the second quarter for a four-point advantage, but the next two minutes were dominated by the ‘Cats. Brown and Courtney Shaw brought Northwestern’s total to 20 points, and then Caroline Lau captured the lead back on a three-pointer, which made for Wood’s fifth assist of the day. The momentum didn’t stop there, as Northwestern held Illinois scoreless for three drives and Wood sank a three-pointer to create the biggest lead of the game, 26-20.

The 10-point streak was snapped on a free throw by Cook, which was the first basket for the Illini in almost four minutes. The back-and-forth continued up and down the court for seven possession changes before Illinois diminished Northwestern’s lead to three. After Mott missed two opportunities at the free-throw line, Brown and Rainey made up for it with a jump shot and two free throws, respectively, bringing the score to 30-25.

In the remaining minute of the first half, the Illini got fired up after Cook made the team’s first three-pointer of the day and Bostic scored on a layup. A free-throw attempt by Shaw put Northwestern ahead 31-30 at the half.

The first half was a seesaw battle with eight lead changes and 11 turnovers, but it was a strong showing for the ‘Cats to keep up with a nationally ranked team.

The third quarter scoring started slow. Illinois quickly recaptured the lead on a layup, which Mott erased on a free throw before the Illini pulled ahead again.

Illinois found its largest lead of the game on a three-pointer for a five-point advantage. Mott and Wood helped to close in on the gap, as Illinois maintained a 40-37 lead into a timeout.

Following the break, Shaw made a layup to come within a point of tying the game, but the Illini answered with a run of six straight. After over two minutes of not scoring, Mott scored on a jumper to give Northwestern its final points of the quarter, making the score 47-41.

The scoring started quickly in the fourth, as Northwestern and Illinois went back and forth with shots. Within the first two minutes, the score was 53-46 with baskets from Lau and Wood.

Coming out of a time-out, Wood scored on a layup and then an opportune traveling violation returned NU the ball, which Wood capitalized on. Illinois maintained a four-point advantage on a free throw, but Shaw answered with two free throws of her own. The back-and-forth continued, but the Illini manage to stay ahead, 60-54.

After a Wildcat drought from behind the arc, Walsh sunk a much-needed three-pointer to make the score 62-57.

With less than a minute left, Brown hit a three of her own to come within just a basket of the lead. Feeling the pressure, however, Bryant made a crucial step-back three-pointer, essentially icing the game.

With just ten seconds left, Brown made a free throw. Shaw then scored on a layup and was fouled, which her brought to the line, making the score 65-64 for the final four seconds.

NU didn’t have much of an option other than to foul, and Illini made the most of the opportunity, making both free throws. Illinois left no time on the board for a game-winner, and the ‘Cats fell, 67-64.

Northwestern will for better luck on Wednesday against Chicago State at 7 p.m. CT before resuming Big Ten play.