By Michelle R. Martinelli
It was a battle of the point guards.
Northwestern’s Ashley Deary and Indiana’s Tyra Buss each walked away from Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday with double-doubles, shooting 50 percent or better. But while Deary sparked the Wildcats’ momentum with 12 points in the third quarter, Buss put up 10 in the fourth, pushing her team to a 91-84 win.
Northwestern (13-7 overall, 2-6 Big Ten) crumbled defensively when it counted late in the game, allowing Indiana (12-8, 4-4) to score 33 points in the fourth quarter, compared with its 19.
“We just have these defensive breakdowns of awareness that we’ve got to clean up,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “I think that was the biggest contributor to the fourth quarter.”
With losses against then-No. 8 Maryland, Minnesota and now Indiana, the Wildcats fell into a three-game losing streak for the first time since late in the 2013-14 season when they lost seven straight games.
Deary — who finished with a career-high 28 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals — was a one-woman show in the third quarter, as Northwestern came back from from a five-point deficit at the half. In 32 seconds, the junior made a free throw and a deep jumper and then stole the ball for a quick layup to help the Wildcats lead 65-58 at the end of the third.
Even when Northwestern was trailing in the first half, McKeown said Deary “did everything right” and made key defensive plays. Not known as a big scorer compared with some of her teammates, she usually steps up when they need extra points, he said.
But despite a tight first 30 minutes with 17 lead changes, Buss took the lead away for good in the final quarter.
Finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, she blew past the Wildcats’ entire defense for two consecutive layups in traffic. Guarding the arc, Northwestern left players wide open down low and failed to grab offensive rebounds, giving Indiana too many second- and third-chance shots.
“We weren’t communicating in transition or in whatever defensive scheme we were in,” Deary said.
Although Deary hit a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter to bring her team within five, the Wildcats were forced to foul. But Hoosier guard Alexis Gassion made both shots, making it impossible for Northwestern to come back.
Junior forward Nia Coffey earned her 10th double-double of the season, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Senior guard Maggie Lyon added 13 points and four rebounds.
Throughout the rough first half of the Big Ten season, McKeown has called out his players’ defensive struggles.
“Everybody in this league can score, for the most part,” McKeown said. “So if we aspire to make a run in the second half of the Big Ten (season), we’ve got to defend.”