“Shoot your shot,” say hopeless romantics. “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take,” says Wayne Gretzky, says Michael Scott. Whether you’re a big fan of either of these sentiments or not a fan of this introduction at all, there’s an incredible message lying in plain sight: if you don’t shoot, you don’t succeed. Of course, there’s always the possibility the shots will miss, and the chance to pull off something incredible will fall short in the end.
That’s exactly what happened to Northwestern women’s basketball (11-5, 9-5 B1G) Wednesday night, as they dropped a shootout to Nebraska (10-9, 8-8 B1G), 71-64. Despite causing 28 turnovers and taking an unfathomable 78 shots, the ’Cats were once again unable to convert in the final stretches of the game, scoring just 31 points over the second half.
“We had Nebraska right where we wanted them in the first quarter, second quarter, halftime. We felt good about our defense,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said postgame. “We just had let downs [in the] second half … they made tough shots and made some threes, got it inside. We just struggled shooting the ball tonight at home, so maybe we got to change the rims or something. But we'll be fine because we’ve got great players.”
Nebraska was led in their effort by sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne, who notched a double-double with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and senior center Kate Cain, who led all scorers with 22 points and went a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor. Cain also scored her 1000th career point in the victory.
On the other side of the floor, Northwestern saw the ever-present dominance of senior guard Lindsey Pulliam, who tied Cain to lead all scorers with 22 points, and senior guard Jordan Hamilton, who also had a double-double with 10 points, and 10 rebounds. Hamilton also grabbed five steals and dished three assists.
The ’Cats were severely limited, however, due to Nebraska’s fantastic defense of junior guard Veronica Burton, who was held to just 10 points on 2-for-12 floor shooting. Burton, who’s been a critical part of the ’Cats’ offense this season, has been held to just 17 points over the past two games, both tough losses. McKeown, however, was not worried about the guard’s recent troubles.
“She’s a great player, a great leader, captain: one of the best players in college basketball,” McKeown said. “She and Lindsey are the target of the other team’s scouting report to beat Northwestern, so she'll play through that. [I have] a lot of confidence in her. She's tough as nails.”
Like many games as of late, the ’Cats started the game hot and clicked early on offense, running circles around the Husker defense. Racing out to a 19-9 lead in the first quarter, the ’Cats were paced by great play by Pulliam and Hamilton, including deep three pointers galore. At halftime, Northwestern led Nebraska 33-24.
After the half, however, the Huskers finally seemed to wake up offensively and began quietly chipping away at the deficit with a 9-2 run to open the third quarter. With Northwestern unable to convert around the perimeter, Nebraska began shooting like a team on a mission with deep shots across the floor.
Riding the momentum, the Huskers outscored the ’Cats 31-20 in the fourth quarter and pulled away to a 57-49 lead with 4 minutes to play. It was too much for Northwestern to handle, and despite Pulliam's late efforts to bring the ’Cats back, Northwestern dropped another close game at home in the second half, their third in six games.
“I think the biggest thing is to just make sure we're a little more patient at times and understand when we make runs, when you have opportunities, when you have a team down, that you’ve got to put your foot on the gas,” McKeown said. “That happened tonight, we had chances I thought to really the first half to open this game up, and we didn't do it … we'll address those things.”
What’s been going wrong for Northwestern? The continued absence of junior center Courtney Shaw is certainly a factor, despite first-year forwards Anna Morris and Paige Mott’s best efforts. Despite causing 28 turnovers, the ’Cats were severely once again out-rebounded, 52 to 33.
Also not helping Northwestern is the inability to click on second-half shots; as previously mentioned, the ’Cats went 25-for-78 from the floor shooting, including 4-for-20 from downtown. Despite McKeown’s insistence that the best offense is a good defense, the ’Cats will need to focus on their shooting going into postseason play. By the words of Lindsey Pulliam, however, there doesn’t seem to be an issue in confidence:
“We just learn from it and move forward,” Pulliam said postgame. “We have a lot of basketball left to play, and this is just somewhere where we get to learn before we get into postseason, because we're a great team, and, and we have big things to come for the rest of the year.”
But as always, the bright side: all four guards of Northwestern’s core (Pulliam, Hamilton, Burton and junior guard Sydney Wood) scored double-digit point totals. The defense still looked stingy, forcing 28 turnovers. The game was never truly out of Northwestern’s reach, and they still looked like one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
Hopefully, the AP Poll agrees.