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Five takeaways from Northwestern’s defeat against Notre Dame

There is a lot to learn after the ‘Cats experienced their first loss of the season in blowout fashion against a tough opponent in the Irish.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Northwestern at Notre Dame
Northwestern Wildcats guard Casey Harter (12) looks to pass the ball while Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Hannah Hidalgo (3) guards her.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Suffice to say, last night’s blowout loss was not the greatest performance from the Northwestern women’s basketball team. The Wildcats kept things close with No. 16 Notre Dame until about midway through the second quarter, when the Fighting Irish offense exploded, going on a 20-5 run to close the half. Northwestern’s scoring woes continued in the third and fourth quarters, where they experienced a drought lasting nearly six minutes and couldn’t manage to put the ball in the basket. It’s a long season, but Northwestern will have plenty to learn from its first major test of their 2023-24 campaign as they try to improve on their 9-21 record from the year before.

Three-point defense desperately needs improvement

The most pressing issue on the defensive side of things for Northwestern was clearly an inability to get to open shooters in time to contest and seriously affect their shots. Notre Dame capitalized on these mistakes, shooting 45% (9-for-20) on the night. Against a team which usually has four capable shooters on the floor at any given time, the ‘Cats were put up to a tough task, and their defensive effort just couldn’t get it done.

Turnovers continue to be an issue

On the offensive side of things, Northwestern showed for the third time this season that ball security is something that needs to be fixed, and quickly.

After last night’s game which saw them cough up the rock 25 times, the Wildcats have now given up 15 or more turnovers in all three of their games this season. The easiest fix for a Northwestern offense which struggled to score (34.4% from the field), and put up 15 fewer shots than Notre Dame, is to turn turnovers into quality shots. It might be a big ask against a team as talented as ND, but it’s an important lesson for the squad, especially as it gears up to face a defensive powerhouse in No. 12 Florida State next week.

The scoring load needs to be dispersed

Overall, scoring hasn’t been a major issue for Northwestern. In their two opening games against UIC and Omaha, the ‘Cats put up 92 and 87, respectively, and had all five of their starters in double figures in both games, too. But when matched up against Notre Dame — which gave them full-court pressure all night, looked to strip the ball and held their own in the paint — Northwestern’s plethora of scorers came to a screeching halt.

Only two players reached 10 points — guards Melanie Daley and Hailey Weaver, both with 11 — while the rest of the starters combined for just nine total points on 4-for-17 shooting. Notre Dame was, of course, a really tough defense to go against for the Wildcat offense, but if they hope to be able to seriously compete against tougher competition, players like Caleigh Walsh and Caroline Lau will need to step up on the scoring front more consistently.

Too. Many. Fouls.

There’s not much to it: Northwestern got outplayed in nearly every statistical category last night, but one really concerning one was fouls. The Wildcats fouled the Irish 17 times over the course of the game, giving up 20 free throws as a result. The biggest issue, it seemed, was fouling inside the paint, often when Notre Dame bigs had position and could easily score.

Twelve of the ‘Cats’ 17 fouls came from the primary forwards in Walsh, Paige Mott and Mercy Ademusayo. A combination of open shots from the outside and fouling from the inside is not a good duo for Northwestern, and needs to be fixed.

Mercy Ademusayo ought to be given more opportunities

The biggest silver lining from Northwestern’s big defeat was the emergence of junior forward Ademusayo. In her first two seasons with the team, Ademusayo was used sparingly, garnering just over three minutes per game in her first season, and 4.5 her sophomore year. As an upperclassman, a bigger role is expected from the team’s tallest player.

Though she saw no action in Northwestern’s overtime win versus UIC, she’s witnessed a boost in her time on the floor: she played 11 minutes versus Omaha, putting up three points and three boards, and against Notre Dame, she had eight and four on 60% shooting in 16 minutes played. If head coach Joe McKeown can use her right, Ademusayo has the potential to make a sizable impact on both sides of the ball going forward.