Three Takeaways from NUWBB vs. DePaul
By Ally Navarrete
In its first real test of the season, women’s basketball (3-1) took on another Chicagoland powerhouse: the DePaul Blue Demons (3-1).
Despite being down 32-13 after the first quarter, the Wildcats mounted an impressive comeback across the remaining three periods. But ultimately, they couldn’t do quite enough to secure the win, falling to DePaul 78-75.
This game showed us a lot about how the ‘Cats could be playing this season. Here are three takeaways from the matchup:
1. This team has options on offense. And it has to use them.
Yes, Veronica Burton is still the driving force for the Wildcat offense. But this game showed us that against stronger opponents, she won’t always have 20-point performances like the first few games of the season.
But not to worry — the No. 10 recruiting class in the nation is living up to the hype. And the ‘Cats need to take advantage.
Against DePaul, first-years Jillian Brown and Melannie Daley brought a new fire to the floor. Brown led the team in points with 16, and Daley was fourth with 13 (only behind Brown, Burton and Shaw). The performances of these two helped propel the ‘Cats to outscore the Blue Demons 42-22 across the second and third quarters.
When the ‘Cats can feed Brown from the arc (or fellow first-year Caileigh Walsh, who is already making great strides on offense) or Daley for a pull-up jumper, the offense will be electric. Of course, Burton can still drive to the basket, put up two and draw the foul, but finding these younger players will be a great option when Big Ten teams are double-teaming the back-to-back conference defensive player of the year.
And not to forget about the vets on the Wildcat squad. Courtney Shaw has consistently put up double digits, scoring 14 against DePaul. She’ll still be a great option in the paint for NU.
2. The Blizzard needs to hit early.
The first quarter against DePaul was reminiscent of the second-round NCAA Tournament game vs. Louisville last season. Except for this time, the ‘Cats were on the losing side.
Northwestern gave up 32 points in the first quarter and only put up 13 of its own. To its credit, DePaul is an offensive powerhouse. But as the team begins to face better teams, defensive collapses like this won’t fly.
When it’s doing what it does best, the Blizzard is great at drowning the shot clock and forcing the opposing offense to scramble. But in this game, the NU defense let the Blue Demons get 23 pretty good shots off in the first 10 minutes.
By the second quarter, the defense was in full force and playing smart, as it didn’t record a single foul. DePaul only put up 13 points in the second quarter. But, it was the 32-point first-quarter performance that would carry it through the game and make taking the lead that much harder for the Wildcats.
So, in short, the Blizzard can’t take time to get going. If the ‘Cats had better contained DePaul’s high-scoring offense in the first quarter, the monstrous comeback wouldn’t have been necessary. Erase the first quarter, and this game wouldn’t have been nearly as close.
3. Free-throw improvement is a must before Big Ten play.
Last season, Northwestern was last in the Big Ten in free throw percentage. Against DePaul, the team was 6-for-16 from the line.
The team’s seniors struggled the most from the charity stripe. Burton, who led the team in FT percentage last season (79.5%), was 4-for-7, and Shaw and Wood went 0-for-3 and 0-for-2, respectively.
In the end, NU fell by three. Had the team made a couple more of its free throws, it likely could’ve come away with the win. Free throws can be the difference-maker in close games like this one, and if Northwestern wants to be competitive in Big Ten matchups, it needs to make significant improvements from the line.