Nia Coffey
Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern returns to the court tonight to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. 

The ‘Cats are coming off of a big week that saw them upset 5th ranked Ohio State before falling to Maryland over the weekend. With a Big Ten record of 2-4, Northwestern has a big week ahead of them, facing two winnable games against Minnesota and then Indiana this weekend. 

While tonight’s game certainly represents a winnable one, Northwestern will have their hands full with Minnesota’s talented backcourt. Rachel Banham is the Big Ten’s number 2 scorer, and can fill it up from anywhere on the court. The ‘Cats will have to keep one eye on Banham wherever she goes on the court. When Banham isn’t scoring, look out for Minnesota’s Carlie Wagner to attack the basket and spread the floor for Banham and company.

Against Maryland, Northwestern struggled to slow down the Terrapins guards.  Brene Moseley poured in 17 points off the bench, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored 15, and three-point sharpshooter Kristen Confroy hit her first 7 threes of the game and finished with 24 points.  Minnesota might not have the interior presence of Maryland’s Brionna Jones and Malina Howard combo, but their top two guards are perhaps as talented as Maryland’s.  

The positive is that, unlike Maryland, Northwestern isn’t dealing with an All-B1G front court.  Minnesota’s best big, Jessie Edwards, averages just 7 points and 5 rebounds a night.  Northwestern’s best game to this point, their upset win over Ohio State, came against a team that was averse to throwing it down to the block in the halfcourt.  Even still, if Wagner and Banham get going, Northwestern will no doubt have its hands full defensively. 

On the offensive end, Northwestern will once again rely on its big four of Nia Coffey, Maggie Lyon, Christen Inman, and Ashley Deary. The game represents a homecoming for Coffey, who hails from the Minneapolis area, and will certainly have a large following in the building tonight.  Coffey was able to fill up the stat sheet against Maryland despite never really looking 100% healthy. She couldn’t elevate over contact the way we’ve grown accustomed to her doing, but she went to the foul line 12 times. Her lateral quickness is another worry working back from what appeared to be an ankle injury, as Walker-Kimbrough of Maryland was able to blow past her a few times.

Ashley Deary’s offensive game is another thing to keep your eye on.  On the year, her shooting split of 41/36/64 is impressive.  In conference, the split is 30/28/75. The spike in free throw shooting is a huge positive, but she’s struggled to score from the perimeter and is averaging north of 4 turnovers a contest.  Of course, Deary doesn’t even need to score to win games for Northwestern the way she plays harassing defense, but it’d still be awfully nice to see her get going offensively.

This game will represent stuff test for Northwestern, but also a winnable one if they can defend Minnesota on the perimeter and attack the basket with aggression. We still don’t have a huge sample size of meaningful games to judge this Wildcat team. If Northwestern can handle business on the road against a decent-to-solid Minnesota team, it would be huge both for their confidence and their tournament résumé.

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