Melannie Daley goes to lay one in. Daley was the Wildcat's leading scorer in the loss to Purdue. Photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern.

A Valentine’s Day matchup between two Big Ten teams was bound to tug at our heartstrings, but no one could anticipate the severity of Wednesday’s loss. On paper, Northwestern women’s basketball (8-16, 3-10 B1G) and Purdue (11-13, 4-9 B1G) constituted a perfect match. Both teams had an even conference record of 3-9 and were seeking to heal from their one-game losing streak. To complicate matters though, the teams had history. Last season, Northwestern called Purdue to the court twice but fell further in their 26-52 all-time series with the Boilermakers after suffering both losses. With a rosy attitude, the ’Cats were now wishing that the third time might be the charm.

From the start, Purdue was a sprinting pink flag. Dressed in their breast cancer awareness jerseys, the Boilermakers set the pace for Northwestern’s annual Play4Kay game at a vigorous intensity. In just four minutes, Purdue hunted down fastbreak layups and shot a cruel three-pointer to take the first nine points of the night, sending a threatening message to Northwestern. But after an early-game timeout, the ’Cats were ready to respond with a fierceness that matched Purdue’s. Second-year guard Caroline Lau and graduate guard Maggie Pina snatched three jarring steals that set up third-year guard Melannie Daley to notch six points on the scoreboard. Nevertheless, the ’Cats were always one step behind.

Purdue initiated a high press that smothered Northwestern players with defensive matchups. The ’Cats, flustered by the aggressive attention, were mercilessly blocked and forced into turnovers that Purdue capitalized on with full-court fastbreaks. Northwestern watched as its opponent painfully tallied another nine points to widen the scoring gap. Not yet disheartened, Pina mustered two seconds of insane courage to shoot her shot at a three-point buzzer beater, which, to her advantage, hit the mark. With spirits lifted, the ’Cats now held Purdue to single digits: 9-18, at the first quarter’s close.

Northwestern desperately needed more initiative from its players in the second quarter, but their usual sharp-shooters played timidly. The team shied away from taking their shots for fear of missing, which, in turn, resulted in their lowest-scoring quarter of the game. The ’Cats made only 10 shot attempts compared to Purdue’s 29 shots. Admittedly, the 'Cats exhibited little progression in their offense, leaving their guards to fight on their own.

On the other end of the court, Purdue players flaunted their chemistry. The moment a Purdue guard charged into Northwestern territory, multiple wingmen flanked the outskirts of the court, poised to help any teammate shoot their shot. Veterans like fourth-year guard Madison Layden and sixth-year forward Caitlyn Harper tallied nine points from behind the arc in the second quarter. Undeniably, the Boilermakers had game. Unprepared for Purdue’s heat, Northwestern conceded five turnovers in the last four minutes, opening the door for Purdue to create a 17-36 lead at the end of the half. The ’Cats had offered Purdue countless second chances —which, of course, only led to more heartbreak. In fact, an outstanding 12 of Purdue’s 36 points came from second chances.

“We got blindsided early,” said Northwestern Coach Joe McKeown.

Unfortunately, the woes would not stop there. In the third quarter, the game seemed to be a one-way street with Purdue taking command. Northwestern was quiet for an entire five minutes. Purdue’s continuous rotation of passes around the arc lured in multiple Wildcats, disintegrating Northwestern’s zone coverage and freeing space inside the paint. The Boilermakers audaciously snuck balls behind Northwestern’s back for their forwards to secure easy layups, contributing to their uncontested 15-point scoring run.

“The game itself: I’m not sure how much we participated,” McKeown noted.

Northwestern’s drought was finally broken when third-year forward Caileigh Walsh made the first bucket of the half with barely four minutes left in the third quarter. Like a match, the shot seemed to reignite the team’s dwindling fire. The ’Cats gambled on more shot opportunities than any other quarter, heavily relying on Daley — who ranks eighth in the conference in field goal percentage at 48.5%. Playing with more risk, the team ultimately made a discouraging six of their 24 shots. The stars weren’t aligning for the ’Cats. Still, in a heartening play, fourth-year guard Jasmine McWilliams converted a steal from Purdue into a fastbreak layup with seven seconds on the clock — the third quarter’s final word.

But, McWilliams was not finished. Despite ranking as 10th-highest scorer on the team, McWilliams scored five points to become the unexpected hero of the quarter. Ten minutes of relentless grit from the 'Cats resulted in the team outplaying the Boilermakers 18-17 to close out the game. Unfortunately, the ’Cats would ultimately fall hard to Purdue in a 48-74 loss, recording their lowest-scoring game of the season. Talk about a heartbreaker. Thankfully, Northwestern has proven that it takes a lot more than a losing streak for their hearts to break.

“It’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole consistently,” said fourth-year forward Paige Mott. “But we just have to be mentally tough.”

The ’Cats know that there is no time to sulk. The team is bound for Minnesota (14-10, 4-9 B1G) where they will attempt to rebound with a matchup against the Golden Gophers on Saturday.

Thumbnail photo by Maggie Rose Baron/North by Northwestern