By Cynthia Maldonado Perez | @CDMP427
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The last time the Northwestern Wildcats played in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, when they made their unexpected trip to the semifinals a year ago, Jordan Hankins played an important role in the journey.
The ninth-seeded Wildcats defeated No. 8 Iowa, 78-73, on Thursday afternoon to advance to a quarterfinal against No. 1 Ohio State. Led by senior forward Nia Coffey, who scored 34 points and tied a Big Ten tournament record with 15 field goals, the Wildcats reached a quarterfinal for the third consecutive year.
But this time, the Northwestern players carried memories of Hankins in their hearts. The Wildcats paid tribute to Hankins by wearing a “JH 5” patch on their jerseys in memory of the sophomore from Lawrence North High School who passed away in her dormitory room in Evanston, Ill. on January 9. A report from the Cook County Medical Examiner ruled that the death was a suicide.
“We know we had a big run last year and a lot of that was because of Jordan,” said senior guard Ashley Deary. “So she’s been on our hearts. We go out and we play for her. It’s great to be in her hometown. She’s always on our minds, always thinking about her. So we’re just going out playing for her and trying to make her proud.”
Coffey’s season-high point total was one less than her career high. She tied Penn State’s Kelly Mazzante for the seventh-highest total in a Big Ten tournament game. Coffey’s career total of 186 points in eight conference tournament games is the fourth highest in Big Ten history. Her 15 field goals tied a tournament record set by Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell in 2016.
When asked what had been working for her, Coffey said, “Just attacking the paint and getting easy layups and being aggressive.”
Last year, Coffey’s total of 100 points set a tournament record.
Deary, a 5-foot, 4-inch guard, scored nine points with seven assists and five rebounds. She is now in the fourth place in Big Ten Tournament career assists with 49 in eight games. Deary is also the Big Ten record holder for career steals with 427 and seventh with 116 steals in a single season.
Lauren Douglas, a 6-foot, 2-inch senior, scored 17 points with eight rebounds. This was the eleventh time Douglas scored double digits for the Wildcats during this season, and she made all six free throws.
For the last two years, Northwestern has reached the semifinal rounds. In 2015, as the No. 4 seed, and as the No. 12 seed last year.
Northwestern (20-10) won a 20th game for the second time in the eight seasons Joe McKeown has been coach and the tenth in program history.
For the Hawkeyes (17-13), sophomore forward Megan Gustafson scored a team-high and career-high 27 points with six rebounds. This was her 14th team-leading 20-point game of the season. Senior guard Ally Disterhoft scored 18 points with five assists and three rebounds.
When Northwestern lost, 78-59, at Iowa on February 16, it was the fourth straight defeat and the seventh in 11 games. Since that loss, the Wildcats have won three of the last four games.
Northwestern’s only meeting with Ohio State was a 94-87 loss at home on Jan. 3. The senior class of Coffey, Deary, Douglas, Christen Inman and Allie Tuttle has been a part of 78 victories, the most since the class of 1993 won 82 games.
“I think they want to go out on top,” McKeown said. “They want to prove whatever there is to prove.”