Another game, another win. After coming back from an early 19-point deficit on Thursday night to beat UIC in overtime, Northwestern left no doubts against Omaha from the moment Paige Mott won the tip. A 17-0 run to open the game fueled the ‘Cats in their 87-69 win. What’d it show? Look no further:
Melannie Daley’s midrange game is the stuff of legends
Since 2021-22, it’s been crystal clear that Daley is a good midrange shooter. It’s been the best facet of her game. But in Northwestern’s first two contests this week, she’s taken that to an entirely different level. After scoring 25 points on 12-of-21 shooting against UIC with zero threes and just 10 paint points, Daley dropped 21 on Omaha... on a 10-of-11 mark from the field. The last player to score 20 points or more in back-to-back games for the ‘Cats was Veronica Burton.
Here’s her shot chart. This is just comical:
You see the numbers, or at least, the colors. It seemed like every time Daley took a shot in the corner on Sunday, it didn’t touch the rim. As Joe McKeown underscored after the win, the best part of Daley’s emergence is that she’s improved at creating her own shot. Most of her looks in the past two seasons came off catch-and-shoot opportunities. Daley has thrived in that area thus far, but her ability to score off the dribble and in transition has dramatically elevated her role. She’s gone from the leader of the second unit and a role player to Northwestern’s apparent top scoring option.
For good measure, Daley added three steals against Omaha. She plucked two against UIC. Even just using the eye test, she is probably NU’s second-best defender behind Hailey Weaver. It’s only two games, but if Daley can continue to produce at anywhere remotely close to this level, Northwestern is in for quite the treat.
Northwestern’s defense has to improve, especially on the perimeter
It was pretty telling that one of the first things McKeown noted in his postgame presser — after an 18-point win, no less — was that he was disappointed with Northwestern’s sloppiness on defense in the second half. The Wildcats started tremendously, as they forced 10 turnovers and held Omaha to a 2-of-13 shooting mark from the field in the first quarter. However, the Mavericks let it rain from three-point land in the second half. They cashed in seven of their 13 looks from deep, scored 45 second-half points and even outscored the ‘Cats over that span.
Northwestern had a few opportunities to extend its lead to 25 or even 30 points, but Omaha always managed to respond with a mini-run that kept the deficit between 15 and 20. Katie Keitges especially hurt NU on the perimeter, as she made six of her nine three-point attempts.
To make matters worse, the Wildcats struggled with foul trouble again. Because the Mavericks were able to frequently beat Northwestern’s guards inside, they managed to earn 20 free throws — almost double NU’s total — despite a clear height disadvantage. Even though Caileigh Walsh played just 14 minutes, she fouled out for the second consecutive game. Against teams on deck with more talented perimeter players who can get to the rim at will (hint hint, Notre Dame’s Sonia Citron and Olivia Miles), that just can’t happen.
Northwestern’s scoring attack is balanced, and fueled by great ball movement
Twenty-nine. That’s how many assists the Wildcats racked up against Omaha. It had 28 against UIC. Northwestern hasn’t accumulated 29 assists in a game since the Obama Administration, and it hasn’t had a two-game average that high since at least 2002, which is as far back as Sports Reference’s game data goes. Plus, averaging about 90 points a game (81 if you only want to count regulation) speaks for itself.
What’s arguably even more impressive is that in both wins, all five of Northwestern’s starters reached double figures. Against Omaha, all of them except Caroline Lau shot over 50% from the field, and the sophomore point guard still picked up 12 assists. In all, the grand total for Weaver, Lau, Walsh, Mott and Daley was 72 points on 30-of-46 (65%) shooting. Many of those looks were open ones because they took defensive attention off one another and moved the ball around with ease.
For a team that was prone to shooting slumps last year, more opportunities to earn higher-quality looks are invaluable. Facing No. 10 Notre Dame in South Bend on Wednesday will mark Northwestern’s first significant test, but the offense has shown flashes of potential at all three levels thus far.