By: Justin Nam /// NNN Sports
Evanston, Ill – The bench was cheering, the coaches were clapping and the crowd was impressed: Northwestern Women’s Basketball (22-6, 12-5 B1G) proved they belong Thursday night after an impressive 80-60 victory over the #20 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20-8, 11-6 B1G).
Much was made of this team over the last week after the Wildcats were given their first Associated Press poll ranking, at #25, for the first time in 19 years. Coming into possibly their biggest test of the season, the ‘Cats held an impressive seven game Big Ten win streak, and they answered the bell by pushing it to eight.
Northwestern went into halftime with a 32-24 lead, but the jets came on during the second period.
“I just loved how we closed the game. We had the lead and we played really well with the lead tonight, especially in the last five minutes.” Head coach Joe McKeown said after the game. “I just felt like we found another gear.”
That new gear was thanks large in part to the play of sophomore point guard Ashley Deary who scored 19 points along with 4 steals. She was also able to break down the full-court press Rutgers used for much of the game.
“Lanes just opened up for me and everyone else, and that’s kind of how we executed.” Deary said.
Nia Coffey was once again impressive, notching her seventh double-double in eight contests scoring 15 points with 10 rebounds.
“She’s a great player. [Rutgers] are a great rebounding team and she just went toe-to-toe with them.” McKeown said.
The offense for the Wildcats was a balanced attack as five players scored in double digits along with 19 total assists. They also scored 48 second half points while shooting 62.1 percent from the field in the period.
Junior forward Lauren Douglas, who has dealt with injuries recently, was a model of efficiency scoring 13 points in just 19 minutes and added a flashy spin-move layup to get the crowd on its feet.
“On any given night anyone on this team can have 15 points.” Douglas said. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable just getting back into the flow of things.”
Although Northwestern has future NCAA Tournament hopes in front of them, Coach McKeown is holding fast to a presently focused mentality.
“I’m just really excited that we’re playing well at the end of the year.” He said. “With [the Northwestern Men’s Team] winning last night, and we had a really loud crowd tonight. There’s a lot of excitement about Northwestern basketball and that’s great for our players. They feel that now. We just want to go one at a time.”
The excitement is warranted as the Wildcats have now won four games against ranked opponents this season and are looking to extend that streak as the #5 Maryland Terrapins will visit Evanston on Sunday. Tip-off for that game is set for 12 p.m.