Northwestern had seen this film before. The Wildcats led 54-49 on the last possession of the third quarter, when Nia Coffey violently rejected Tyra Buss’ last-second shot attempt out of bounds. Indiana had the ball out of bounds with half a second left in the quarter, and the Hoosiers took advantage. Amanda Cahill took the inbounds pass and got fouled as she flung the ball over her head into the basket. The officials reviewed the play, and the basket stood. Although Cahill missed the free throw and Northwestern kept the lead, the Wildcats had again lost momentum entering the game’s final quarter.
In Big Ten play, the Wildcats went 2-8 in games decided by single digits. They often appeared worn down in the game’s final quarter, including in the regular season against this Indiana team (the Hoosiers outscored NU 33-19 in the final frame to win 91-84).
But this wasn’t Big Ten regular season play. This was the conference tournament, and with the pressure off and Maggie Lyon out, Northwestern came through for the third straight day.
Northwestern continued its surprising run through the Big Ten tournament, scoring eight of the first ten points of the fourth quarter en route to a 79-73 victory over the 4th-seeded Hoosiers.
The quarterfinal victory comes one day after an upset win over fifth-seeded Minnesota, and two days after an overtime win over 13th-seed Wisconsin. Northwestern will play its fourth game in four days tomorrow against top-seeded Maryland in the semi-finals, and the Wildcats are the first 12-seed in the history of the Big Ten Women’s Tournament to reach the semi-final round.
Christen Inman led the way in the fourth quarter, scoring six of those first eight fourth-quarter points as the Wildcats built a nine-point lead early in the final frame. Inman scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half, as the Wildcats finished strong for the third straight day.
The Hoosiers attempted to stage a late comeback, and were within six at 77-71 when IU’s Karlee McBride was fouled shooting a three-pointer with 23 seconds to go. McBride missed all three free throws, and the Wildcats held on to win.
In addition to fourth-quarter struggles, the Wildcat bench had underperformed during the regular-season. Northwestern’s starters scored all 84 of the team’s points in that late January loss to the Hoosiers, but today the Wildcat bench outscored Indiana’s, 15-10. Jordan Hankins contributed eight points off the bench, and Allie Tuttle added seven. The pair combined on a 7-3 run midway through the third quarter to extend Northwestern’s lead to 54-47, before the Hoosiers ended the quarter with their reviewed buzzer-beater.
The game was tied at 35 at halftime after Nia Coffey carried the team through most of the second quarter. The junior all-conference performer scored 19 of the Wildcats’ 35 first-half points, including the team’s last 11 points of the second quarter. She finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, her second straight double-double. Coffey has scored in double-figures in all 33 of the team’s games this season.
Just as the Wildcats shut down Minnesota star Rachel Banham yesterday, the team did a solid job defensively against the Hoosiers’ leading scorer, Tyra Buss. Buss took a hard fall midway through the second quarter, but played 39 minutes. She scored only 16 points on 4-of-18 shooting from the field, and Cahill led the team in scoring with 23 points.
While Coffey led the way in the first half and Inman closed out the Hoosiers in the fourth quarter, Ashley Deary’s steady hand kept the ‘Cats going throughout the game. Deary tallied 14 points and 11 assists, and made four clutch free throws in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah again controlled the glass, finishing with 10 rebounds, her second straight double-digit rebounding performance.
Northwestern, considered an WNIT after-thought at the start of the Big Ten tournament, has pushed its way back into the post-season picture and needs only two more wins for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. NU has beaten two RPI top-1oo opponents in two days, and now has the nation’s 102nd-ranked RPI. That’s not great, but possibly good enough to reach a 64-team WNIT.
Tomorrow will be a tough task for the Wildcats, who lost to the Terps twice this season, first in College Park and then in Evanston. In the teams’ second game, Maryland jumped out to a 25-5 lead before the ‘Cats rallied back within single digits and forced the Terps to make plays down the stretch and seal the win.
It’s unlikely the ‘Cats will knock off the fifth-ranked team in the country, especially in their fourth game in four days, and especially without Maggie Lyon.
But for the first 12th-seed to reach the Big Ten Women’s Tournament semi-finals, anything seems possible.