WBB: Strong Finish will be Key for Northwestern vs. Rutgers
Since upsetting Ohio State in Evanston, Northwestern has lost six of seven games. In those losses, a pattern has developed: the Wildcats compete with their opponent for the first three quarters, and then fall short in the fourth.
Against Minnesota on January 20, the ‘Cats and Gophers were tied at 74 entering the fourth quarter, but Minnesota outscored NU 21-18 in the final frame and won 95-92.
In their next game against Indiana, Northwestern led 65-58 entering the fourth, only to lose the final period 33-19 and the game 91-84.
At Ohio State, the ‘Cats led 54-50 after three, but lost 76-73.
Northwestern trailed Iowa 54-50 at the end of the third, and lost by the inflated margin of 79-64.
After winning the fourth quarter and the game Thursday at Illinois, Northwestern returned home and led Minnesota 70-63 entering the fourth. The Gophers outscored NU 24-17 to force overtime, then finished off the Wildcats 112-106 in double-OT.
The Wildcats match up well with Rutgers, but must play a full 40 minutes to secure a second straight road victory.
Much like Northwestern, the Scarlet Knights have taken a step back this season after reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Rutgers earned an 8-seed and beat Seton Hall in the first round before losing to UConn in the round of 32, but the Scarlet Knights have struggled this season and sit in a three-way tie for eighth in the Big Ten at 5-7, two games ahead of Northwestern.
Rutgers has fared much better at home in conference play (4-1) then they have on the road (1-6), and the Wildcats will play their first conference game in Piscataway after facing (and defeating) the Scarlet Knights twice last season, once in Evanston and once at the Big Ten Tournament.
Just like the Wildcats, Rutgers relies on four scorers for the majority of their points. Junior Tyler Scaife and senior Kahleah Copper carry the bulk of the scoring load, averaging 18 and 16 points per conference game, respectively. Seniors Rachel Hollivay (8.5 PPG) and Briyona Canty (7 PPG) also contribute, but the cupboard is bare beyond the four veterans.
Freshman Khadaizha Sanders delivered a welcome 11 points in the Scarlet Knights’ last game (a win against Penn State), but that outburst came after she scored three points in 18 minutes over Rutgers’ last two games.
Rutgers shoots a higher percentage than Northwestern both from the floor and from three, but the Wildcats average 13 more points per game than the Scarlet Knights. However, defense evens the scales, as the Wildcats have allowed 81 points per conference game, which is 17 more than RU.
Northwestern has the talented to stay with Rutgers, and the two teams’ benches appear similarly thin, so whichever team gets key contributions from its role players will come out on top Wednesday night. Lydia Rohde (10 points) and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah (16 rebounds) delivered for the ‘Cats against Minnesota, so I’ll pick NU to win a second straight road game behind another solid outing from PKA, Rohde, or both.