By Emily Kennedy | @Emily_AKennedy
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The energy is so high and the smiles are so contagious. Off to the side in the Northwestern locker room, Lydia Rohde is singing as she gets her leg wrapped. Christen Inman describes the feeling at the end of this game perfectly: “Hell Yeah!”
The mood in the room is intoxicating, and it should be. The No. 12 Wildcats had just defeated No. 4 Indiana, 79-73, to advance to the Big Ten tournament semifinals for a second consecutive year. Northwestern (18-15), the lowest-seeded team to reach the semifinals in this tournament, will face top-seeded and fifth-ranked Maryland.
Nia Coffey led Northwestern with 26 points and 11 rebounds for a three-game total of 69 points and 29 rebounds. Ashley Deary, the 5-foot, 4-inch junior point guard, had 14 points with 11 assists, the fourth-highest assist total in the history of the tournament. Deary has had 23 assists in the three games here, which equals the fifth-highest total for a Big Ten tournament.
How did the No. 12 team, which had lost 11 of its last 13 regular-season games, make it this far?
“Coming off a conference season that wasn’t what we expected and what we wanted, and to come in here and win three games in a row, there is a lot of excitement and pride,” said Inman, the junior guard who made 6 of 7 shots in the fourth quarter to score 14 of her 18 points in the period.
Northwestern was outrebounded, 45-41. But the Wildcats had 14 fast break points and scored 13 points as the result of Indiana turnovers. The Wildcats made 52 percent of their shots in the second half.
No. 4 Indiana (20-11) had equaled its best seed in tournament history, and the highest in 18 years. Sophomore forward Amanda Cahill led the Hoosiers with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Tyra Buss scored 16 points, her 35th straight game in double figures. She extended a school record with 949 points in her freshman and sophomore seasons. Buss made eight of nine free throws for a school record of 195 this season.
“We didn’t come out with the energy and intensity that we usually do,” Buss said. “Our defense wasn’t where it needed to be. We didn’t have an answer for Coffey.”
Coffey’s energy led Northwestern to this victory. In the first half, Coffey put up 19 of the team’s 35 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Off the bench, junior forward Allie Tuttle and freshman guard Jordan Hankins put up seven and eight points respectively. Hankins, from nearby Lawrence North High School, has been playing with two torn tendons in her right pinky finger.
When asked about last year’s semifinal game against Maryland, a 74-63 loss, coach Joe McKeown said, “You know, we’re a different team. There are a couple different players on both teams. But, you know, it was a great game. And I liked how we competed.”
Northwestern was defeated twice by Maryland this season, including a 79-70 home loss on Valentine’s Day in which the Wildcats were within five points in the final minutes.
When asked about how she felt after three games in three days, Coffey said, “I feel fine, which is kind of surprising.”
Now the surprising Wildcats will play for the fourth time in four days.
“I’m excited,” Coffey said. “I am ready to play. I think Maryland is a great team but we can definitely beat them.”