Jasmine McWilliams extends for the ball in a game against Loyola. She was one of seven Wildcats with at least seven points against Chicago State. Photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

One in the bag, onto the next.

The Northwestern Wildcats (7-13, 0-9 B1G) secured an easy home victory over the Chicago State Cougars (2-21), breaking their eight-game losing streak with a 87-64 final score. The Wednesday night game, which was originally scheduled for Dec. 22 but postponed due to inclement weather, came at just the right time for the ’Cats. In the midst of tough conference play, Northwestern needed a win.

“It’s giving us momentum for the rest of the season,” said second-year forward Caileigh Walsh of the victory, adding that the remainder of Northwestern’s conference games are all “winnable” for the ’Cats.

Northwestern led the Cougars all night, though the game was closer than expected until midway through the third quarter. Chicago State brought the score within two points after making back-to-back three-pointers to start the second half. That was when the ’Cats ramped it up, widening the gap to 23 by the end of the third quarter and keeping a lead of at least 18 points for the remainder of the game.

“I think our energy was a little bit dead, especially on the court we kind of got into our heads and we weren’t communicating very well.” Walsh said. “It was a good time to regroup.”

First-year guard Caroline Lau hit her stride in an impressive way, recording a season-high 20 points and seven rebounds while shooting 50% from behind the three-point stripe. In her second collegiate start, Lau was on fire right out of the gate, putting up seven points within the first five minutes of play.

Lau was closely followed in scoring by Walsh, who put up 17 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Walsh had a slow start but took off during the third quarter, scoring 11 points in under three minutes.

Missing from the lineup was graduate student guard Sydney Wood, who had started every other game this season and has played the most total minutes of anyone on the team. In her absence, the rest of the team stepped up with ease, as seven of the 10 ’Cats who played put up seven or more points. Third-year forward Paige Mott and third-year guard Jasmine McWilliams were tough to beat in the paint, with Mott finishing the game with 11 points and seven rebounds and McWilliams with eight points and eight rebounds. The ’Cats also shot 82.4% from the free throw line, knocking down 28 throughout the game.

On defense, however, Northwestern faced some of the same difficulties that have characterized past games. While they held the Cougars off enough to win, it was a relatively poor showing for a team aiming to be competitive in the B1G. Chicago State has scored 64 points or more in just five other games this season. In their only other B1G matchup, Minnesota (9-11, 2-7 B1G) held the Cougars to just 54 points while scoring 105.

Wednesday’s win came days after a tough three-point defeat to Illinois (16-5, 6-4 B1G), the closest the ’Cats have come this season to a conference victory. The battle against Illinois was hard-fought, Northwestern bringing the game within one point with four seconds left on the clock. The ’Cats shot 45.1% from the field and 47.1% from the three-point line that day, one of their better offensive showings of the season.

Now Northwestern is looking ahead to their remaining conference games, most of which should prove less challenging than what they’ve faced so far. The ’Cats play at Wisconsin (7-14, 2-7 B1G) on Sunday, where they’ll be eager to record their first B1G win this season.

“I think you just gotta focus on the process right now, and the next game,” said head coach Joe McKeown, adding that the team isn’t focused on their record thus far but is excited about the rest of the season.

That will certainly be the goal for the ’Cats as they enter the second half of conference competition: to put their earlier struggles behind and play like they’ve never lost.

Thumbnail photo by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern