Three Phases #3: Phases Reloaded
WNUR’s Ben Goren (@BenG412) examines Monday night’s loss for Northwestern women’s basketball and explains how this team could make noise in the next month.
Though it’s only been two weeks, the prospect of writing an article on a Thursday without a Thursday game is a little jarring. A trio of Northwestern freshman visited the Big Ten Network, there have been glances at pink shoes for the upcoming game on Saturday, but no game to stay up until 1:00 AM breaking down. We make do. Monday, Northwestern was on the road at Iowa Monday (which is not a fun drive, let me tell you). Iowa is a damn good team and showed it, winning 90-84 and improving to 19-6 on the year. Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder picked up her 270th win, putting her on top of the all time list at Iowa, so good on ya. Northwestern meanwhile lost its 3rd straight game, falling back to 14-10 on the year. Less good. Let’s break it down.
Remember when Nia Coffey was hurt and I was complaining about how NU couldn’t get it inside the paint? Seems like that was a while ago. Coffey poured in a decent 29 points and did OK on the boards, grabbing 10 of them. Lauren Douglas played alright too, scoring 25 and grabbing 5 before eventually fouling out. It wouldn’t be a huge jump to say that Northwestern over the next two years might have the most athletic and dynamic forwards in the Big Ten. Playing Coffey and Douglas together, while forfeiting a little bit of height, puts 2 legitimate post up forwards with range out to the three point arc. That’s hard to guard. Outside of those two though, Northwestern was left looking for answers. Maggie Lyon’s inconsistent shooting numbers continued, going 3-11 from the floor and a measly 1-7 from three in scoring 10 points. Christen Inman shot an uncharacteristic 30.1% from the floor, going 4-13 scoring 10 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. I feel like these guys when I complain about an 84-point offensive effort though. NU shot 45%, outscored the Hawkeyes in the paint, and scored 45 points in a half. The men’s team has scored less than 50 in a game 5 times. Northwestern can score the ball, it’s keeping the other team from doing that that’s been a problem.
There are a couple of ways to look at Melissa Dixon. The Iowa guard got loose for 24 points on Monday, and looking back, with the exception of the Big Ten Tournament last year, Dixon has killed the Wildcats in the same way, scoring 21 points in Welsh-Ryan on March 3rd, 2013 and 21 points in Carver-Hawkeye Arena a month later. You could say Dixon is a “Wildcat Killer,” a person who for her career averages 10.2 points per contest, but just has a habit of beating teams in purple to a pulp. Or you could say Melissa Dixon represents the type of player that Northwestern struggles to defend. I say it’s the second. On December 1st, DePaul’s Megan Rogowski scored 23 points on 6-12 from three. January 12th, Sari Noga of Minnesota scored 17 points on 4-10 shooting from deep. February 6th, Michigan’s Siera Thompson scored 25 on 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc. When the Cats have knocked off top 25 teams (with the exception of DePaul) or come close to doing so, they have defended the 3-point arc. Penn State went 2-12. Nebraska shot 4-20 in Evanston, 5-17 in Lincoln. In the upset over Purdue, Purdue went 5-14. Correlation or causation you be the judge, but to me it’s clear. If Northwestern wants to turn around the losing streak, they have to extend the defense.
“Point Guard Watch” is officially on. Karly Roser and Ashley Deary essentially split time, helped largely by Deary picking up her 3rd foul right after halftime. The stat lines were basically even. Roser scored 4, had 4 assists, and turned it over once in 19 minutes. Deary scored 4, had 4 assists, and turned it over twice in 21 minutes. I’m no stat major, but it’s pretty clear there isn’t a whole lot to separate the two. Having two solid point guards is a good problem to have, but there does have to be one starter. If I’m Joe McKeown, I’m giving Karly Roser the nod. The junior’s experience, calm under pressure, and strength put her ahead, if only slightly, of Deary, even with the freshman’s great season. The questions about the starting 5 don’t end there. After Douglas’s 25, it’s hard to imagine her staying on the bench, and since the trio of Alex Cohen, Douglas, and Coffey have rarely if ever been on the court together, Cohen’s starting spot may be on the chopping block. Cohen’s height and 3 point touch are of course useful, but her relatively low rebounding numbers might see her relegated to a 6th player role in the not too distant future.
Northwestern needs to have a productive bye week, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers come strolling into town on Saturday. The Gophers handed Northwestern its biggest loss of the year on January 12th in Minneapolis as they ran away to win 94-59. Rachel Banham, Sari Noga, and Shayne Mullaney scored 28, 17, and 13 respectively while the Wildcats were stuck in foul trouble the entire game, with Coffey, Cohen, Deary, and Megan McKeown picking up 4 fouls and Christen Inman picking up 5. Minnesota is what Northwestern struggles with, a team that shoots well from three (Banham shoots 47.3% and Noga shoots 37%) while also being able to crash the boards (Amanda Zahui grabs 10.7 a game). Northwestern needs a win to stop the skid and put themselves in commanding position for the NIT, or maybe a backdoor NCAA bid. Northwestern sits in a tie for 9th in the B1G, and a win could see them skip over Indiana and Minnesota if other results go their way. The game tips off at 2:30, and like all Wildcat home games, you can catch it on WNUR sports.