Northwestern couldn’t keep the momentum rolling from its upset over Maryland, and fell big to the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes.
EVANSTON, ILL. — Nobody said Big Ten play was easy, but Northwestern would be forgiven for not expecting it to be this hard. After two huge wins over Illinois and Maryland in the last week, the ‘Cats fell back to earth a bit with a 77-51 home loss to Iowa.
There are plenty of ways to narrativize what was easily NU’s worst game of the season, which dropped the ‘Cats to 12-2 and 2-1 in conference play. Maybe it was an emotional letdown after upsetting Maryland. Maybe the shots that were so often falling during the initial surge through Big Ten play simply didn’t fall. Maybe the ‘Cats’ season-long rebounding issues have finally caught up to them. Maybe Iowa’s zone was too much to handle.
Coach Joe McKeown put it succinctly:
“We laid an egg today.”
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He later cited defensive breakdowns, a constant struggle to find good looks and settling for bad shots as reasons for his team’s surprising clunker of an afternoon. All that said, the fact of the matter is, 29.6% from the floor in the first half was never going to cut it against a team that shoots as well as Iowa does, especially coupled with a 20-13 rebounding gap that never closed. It’s, again, safe to say rebounding has now manifested as a longterm issue, which McKeown was also clear to acknowledge will be discussed.
NU was down 14-4 five minutes in and 33-21 at halftime, and while holding the Hawkeyes under 35 one game removed from a 108-point output is nothing to shake a stick at, the ‘Cats could never get enough going offensively to really hang around.
The ‘Cats live and die by Lindsey Pulliam, and today was no different. She took 23 of the team’s 56 field goal attempts, and while she contributed a standard 25-point, albeit high-volume shooting performance, none of her teammates were unable to provide efficient production on that end of the court. Aside from NU’s 4-of-21 mark from long range, Abbie Wolf was the most notable casualty of Iowa’s suffocating zone. The Wildcat center mustered just two points on two attempts, with just two rebounds to boot.
“Offensively we just didn’t do a good job, whether it’s getting it into Wolf or getting into gaps or get behind the zone,” McKeown said. “She is an integral part of what we do, and we’ll address that this week. And [from three-point range], we’re streaky. Against Maryland we made a lot of those threes and that opened up our defensive pressure. We couldn’t do that tonight.”
Veronica Burton, with just 10 points, was the next best NU could do scoring-wise. However, she did pitch in with four steals to eclipse 15 through three conference games. She is leading the Big Ten in this category for a second straight year, and it is not particularly close.
While this team may still fail to crack the rankings on Monday, its goals of a first NCAA Tournament berth in five seasons are still well within reach. The ‘Cats have only a few days to lick their wounds before traveling up to Minnesota on Thursday night, and returning home to take on Purdue next Sunday at 6 p.m. McKeown called it a “two-game tournament,” stressing that while his team is now in uncharted waters in having to handle the shock of a defeat like this, looking inward, and then onward, are all that needs to be done.
“We start school tomorrow, and we get into this routine in the Big Ten, with two games ahead this week,” he said. “You’ve got to let this one loose and put it behind you and move forward, which sounds like a lot of clichés, but that’s what you have to do. I’m more concerned really about us [than future opponents]. We’ll be fine.”
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