Preview: Northwestern vs. Michigan
By Pat Timlin
The Wildcats made quick work of the Fighting Illini in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. After Illinois’ field goal-less second quarter, Northwestern cruised into the locker room with a 30-point lead. While the second half was ultimately uneventful, there are lessons to be learned for Coach Joe McKeown’s team ahead of its game against a Michigan squad who’s already bested the ‘Cats twice this year.
- Find Courtney Shaw in the post whenever you can. The 6-foot junior has not played more than 20 minutes since returning from an injury that sidelined her for a month and a half, but her scoring has been tremendously efficient. She shot 4-of-5 against the Wolverines in the last regular season game and went 3-of-4 yesterday (albeit she missed a wide open fast break layup). Taking the scoring load off the guards will be a huge advantage for Northwestern.
- Get Sydney Wood going to the basket. Her offensive game has continued to improve remarkably during her time in Evanston. While Pulliam’s jump shot worked on Tuesday, Wood can create by getting into the paint, getting fouled, or looking for a kick-out to any of Northwestern’s shooters.
- Score more than 70 points. This is a feat Northwestern has not accomplished since January, when they won on the road at Iowa (teams don’t win there!). The Wildcats held Michigan to 63 points in the regular season finale and that’s a number McKeown will take. The defense will almost always be there for Northwestern, but scoring has become trickier for this team as the season waned on.
- Let a team beat you three times in a season. At the collegiate level, it’s incredibly hard to do. Look at this exact game in last year’s Big Ten Tournament. Northwestern won the Big Ten in the regular season, beating Michigan twice on the way, but ultimately disappointed with an early exit in the tourney at the hands of the Wolverines. Time for revenge, a dish best served cold and in a blizzard.
- Let Michigan blitz you. The ‘Cats offense struggled to break through Illinois’ second-half full-court press, which led to three Veronica Burton turnovers in the third quarter alone. Winning the turnover battle and creating points at the other end is Northwestern’s game — the second that starts to shift, winning the game becomes a lot harder.
- Let the ball go into the paint. The correct statement here might be “try to limit how much the ball goes into the paint.” Newly announced Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon is averaging 25 points per game and looks unstoppable. However, Northwestern held her to 19 points in their last matchup, a seven-point improvement from their previous bout, and forced the 6-2 center into six turnovers. Shaw, Paige Mott and Anna Morris will need all the help they can get from NU’s guards to contain Hillmon.