WNIT Preview: Northwestern vs Ohio

Northwestern’s two-game road win streak earned the Wildcats an extra home matchup in the postseason. The Wildcats look to make it four wins in the WNIT to earn a trip to the Final Four. They have a tough opponent in Ohio, who has won three single-digit games to reach the WNIT Elite Eight.

How to Listen

Matt McHugh and Amit Mallik will be on the call for WNUR Sports. Tune in to WNUR at 89.3 FM in the Chicago-Evanston area, or stream worldwide at wnur.org/popup or on the free TuneIn App. The WNUR feed will also be simulcast with video on BTN Plus. Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. CST from Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Stakes

Northwestern aims to be the third-straight Big Ten team to win the WNIT, and to advance to the WNIT Final Four for the first time in program history. Ohio would be the second MAC champion in WNIT history (Toledo won the tournament in 2011.)

Opponent Preview: Ohio Bobcats (30-5, 14-4 MAC)

Ohio was consistently one of the strongest mid-major teams in the nation this season. However, they placed second in the regular season conference standings. The Bobcats lost their NCAA Tournament bid by losing to Buffalo in the MAC Tournament Championship. Despite wins over the two MAC teams in the tournament, (Buffalo, Central Michigan) Ohio was left out of the field. They were likely the first team left out of the field, and their omission was surprising.

Ohio beat Purdue early in the season, a team that beat Northwestern twice. However, they also lost to the Toledo team Northwestern defeated last week. That’s one of just five losses Ohio suffered all season. The Bobcats were undefeated in non-conference play and didn’t lose until January. Three losses were to tournament teams and their other two were to WNIT teams.

Ohio thrives on its high-octane offense, which ranks 18th in the nation at 76.8 points per game, and fourth this season in total 3-pointers (stats courtesy HerHoopStats). Ohio shoots 43 percent this season while holding their opponents under 40 percent. The Bobcats also rack up steals; over 10 per game ranks No. 20 and leads even Rutgers. They force 19.4 turnovers per game while committing just 13.1 per game.

The Bobcats’ biggest weakness is their size. They don’t have a rotation player taller than 6’1″, and none of their starters reach 6 feet, which is reflected in their rebounding stats. They can make up for the lost possessions with their turnover margin, but Ohio ranked last in the MAC in defensive rebound rate and 10th (of 12) in total rebound rate. That’s great news for Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who just had 10 offensive boards against West Virginia and ranks third in that category this year, trailing only all-Americans Kristine Anigwe and Teaira McCowan.

Players to Watch

Cierra (Cece) Hooks was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-MAC First Team, which names just five players, unlike the Big Ten. Hooks, a sophomore guard averages over 17 points per game. Hooks shoots just 25 percent on 3-pointers but 50 percent on all shots. Hooks also averages 3.1 steals per game, leading the MAC and well above anyone from the Big Ten. Hooks can get into foul trouble, though; she averages 3.3 fouls per game and has fouled out six times this year.

Erica Johnson won MAC Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year, though she has logged 22 starts this year. Johnson, a 5-foot-11-inch forward, averages 13.8 points per game and leads the team with 6.7 rebounds despite her smaller stature. She shoots 42 percent but gets to the free-throw line often where she shoots 76 percent.

Dominique Doseck and Amani Burke both shoot over 40 percent on 3-pointers and take roughly six each per game. Northwestern has struggled with perimeter defense at times this season, and those two could be the difference makers.

Prediction

Ohio is the favorite on paper. But there are many ways the Wildcats could win. They’re in great shape if any of the stars have a great night, though they need to watch the turnover battle. With a home crowd behind them, the Wildcats sneak it out and will see themselves in the Final Four.

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