The end of the first quarter may have called for panic. Maybe because of last year’s notorious Final Four loss. Maybe because Northwestern hasn’t made it to the NCAA Championship since 2012. Maybe because it was 4-2 Denver, and the ‘Cats hadn’t scored in 10 minutes. But then the ‘Cats came back to life in the second quarter, and the Pioneers never stood a chance.
For nearly six minutes into the second quarter, the two teams traded possessions before Izzy Scane notched her first goal of the game. Hailey Rhatigan fired away less than a minute later to tie the score at four. As if an even playing field wasn’t enough to set a change of pace, Rhatigan and Scane tag-teamed Denver on the ride to cause a turnover, leading to Maddy Taylor scoring a goal with most of the field still lagging behind.
“We tried to take out time, run our offense, focus on ourselves and [we] started hitting the back of the cage,” Scane said. “Then things started rolling, which it’s awesome when you get momentum and keep it.”
That second quarter was the game-changer. Denver didn’t score, and Northwestern walked into halftime with a 6-4 lead. The Wildcats then walked out of the break and started firing again.
The Pioneers added three goals across the last two frames. The ‘Cats had nine. Their 15 total goals marked the first time all season — the first time in 22 games against teams like Boston College, Maryland and North Carolina— that Denver allowed double-digit goals.
“I think going into the game, we’ve really tried to take our attention away from all the talk about Denver’s defense,” Scane said. “All the discussion about how great they were and obviously they are phenomenal...But we really made sure we focused on ourselves and our offense and knowing that we go into games and we can score a lot of goals.”
The Pioneers have the best defense in the country and just put up a dominant performance in the quarterfinals, holding North Carolina to four goals and none in the second half. But the No. 1 offense in the country is also No. 1 for a reason.
Scane, the Tewaaraton Finalist, had six goals on 13 shots and notched two assists. Rhatigan tallied four goals and Erin Coykendall, the other NU Tewaaraton Finalist, contributed five points. In proving just how offensive dominant the ‘Cats were, a 15-5 lead in the fourth quarter induced a running clock on the Pios.
It wasn’t just the offense that was strong all-around. Molly Laliberty had eight saves and the defense caused 13 of Denver’s 21 turnovers. Despite winning just two of seven draws in the first quarter, the ‘Cats managed to evenly split the total with the Pioneers.
There was a lot of talk about how this matchup would go in regard to how the Wildcat offense would hold up against a stellar defense. And, Denver is a beyond-talented team, but these ‘Cats are something else.