There’s a reason they call it March Madness: Anything can happen to any team, and when it does, they need to be ready to respond. And unfortunately for No. 11 Northwestern women’s basketball (26-4, 16-2 B1G), they were not quite ready for it.
After a dominant performance in the regular season, the ’Cats fell early in the Big Ten tournament to a resurgent Michigan (21-10, 10-8 B1G) team 67-59 on Friday. The Wolverines, who Northwestern swept in the regular season, outpaced the ’Cats in all categories enroute to the semifinals.
“Michigan’s a real good team ... We knew it was gonna be a battle,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said.
In their victory, Michigan saw three players turn in unbelievable scoresheets. Sophomore Naz Hillmon led all scorers with 20 points, with junior Hailey Brown close behind her with 19. Freshman Maddie Nolan also contributed, going 3-for-4 from behind the arc to score 13 points, while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, the ’Cats only saw two players reach double-digit scoring. Sophomore Veronica Burton continued to shine, leading the team with 15 points and seven assists, while junior Jordan Hamilton showed her talents, coming off the bench to score 14 points.
It was a rough game right from the start. Michigan opened the affair with eight straight points, before the ’Cats closed the gap and began trading buckets with their opponent, finishing the first half leading 33-32. The second half, however, was not as forgiving. After again matching buckets, the Wolverines began to pull away on clutch three-point shooting from the aforementioned Nolan, to put Michigan up nine with under five minutes remaining. The Wolverines held from there to move on to the semifinal.
As mentioned, Michigan outpaced the ’Cats in every category, but the most glaring issue was three-point shooting. The Wolverines went a balanced 7-for-13 from downtown, while Northwestern shot a below-average 3-for-14, with senior Abi Scheid — the best three-point shooter in the country — being held to just one bucket made on five attempts.
While rough, the loss in no way means the end of the season for the team. Several experts have predicted the ’Cats will have a high seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and when it rolls around, the team will be ready to face another challenge.
“Before tonight, we were 26-3," McKeown said. "I can’t remember the last time we lost, we went undefeated in February. These guys have given Northwestern everything they have. So it's a great season. You know for us, [there’s] a lot of basketball left, hopefully."
“In 10 days from now or 12 days from now, whenever we play next, you’ll see a great team out there. I have no doubt about that,” he added.
“This team, given ten days of rest … I wouldn’t want to play us.”