By Astasia Williams
Once you’re hot, it’s important to keep the fire burning.
The Northwestern women’s basketball team looked to be a shoo-in for an NCAA tournament berth after going 6-4 in the first 10 conference games.
The Wildcats have been in a drought since an eight-day break following a Jan. 17 victory over Michigan State, going just 2-4 since that win. Thursday’s loss against Minnesota was their third consecutive loss and surely not helpful for their hopes to go dancing in March.
Their next opportunity to re-light the spark comes Thursday at Iowa (15-10, 6-6 Big Ten). The Cats (17-6; 6-6 Big Ten), like their gym mates on the men’s side, are hoping to enter the brackets for the March Madness. But looking too far in the future is not in their game plan.
At Minnesota, All-America forward Nia Coffey went into her home state and poured in a season-high 33 points and recorded her 13th double-double of the year with 10 rebounds, but NU did not finish the game and lost 71-61.
“I think we played really well and really focused against Minnesota,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We just didn’t shoot the ball very well and it was a difference.”
Coffey will need more help from her supporting cast going forward if the team wants to find itself in the postseason.
“We are just trying to keep everyone motivated,” Coffey said. “It’s important to keep everyone with the same mentality and on the same page.”
The Cats are currently on a six-day, three-game road trip. McKeown says that the packed road games may be a reason for the decline in his team’s energy. But there are bigger games coming up to replenish their spirits.
“I think we’re good. I feel like we are in a good place,” said McKeown. “We’ve got a lot at stake. We have a lot of games left — an entire Big Ten tournament — which we got to the semifinals in the last two years. We should be fine. This is the fun part of the year.”
Ashley Deary, who has been named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the nation’s top point guard, finished with 11 points, five assists and five steals at Minnesota. That marked her 17th time scoring in the double figures this season.
Deary hopes her play and leadership takes Northwestern to the postseason, which she hasn’t seen since her sophomore year.
“We have to get back to playing with passion and finding what our purpose is here,” Deary said. “There’s still a shot to go to the NCAA tournament. We can only do it one game at a time and our biggest thing needs to be really executing and staying disciplined in this game.”