It looked as though overtime might be inevitable after Illinois’ Amber Moore nailed a three-pointer to tie up the game at 58 points apiece. But NU guard Karly Roser went down driving the lane and got a foul that took her to the line. She missed her first and Illinois tried to ice the young freshman, who was 5-12 from the line on the night, with a timeout.
“I knew everyone else believed in me,” Roser said. "Coach even gave me a hug."
She nailed the second shot and when Illinois failed to make a half-court buzzer-beater, the ‘Cats emerged victorious against their in-state rival with a final score of 59-58.
“I was really proud of Karly. That’s a tough situation,” said NU head coach Joe McKeown. “She had gotten shaken up a little bit when she got fouled. You could see it. I thought I’m just going to give her a hug and help her settle down. This is fun, it should be fun.”
The tense atmosphere in Welsh-Ryan created a fitting end for a roller-coaster game that saw NU up by as much as 10 points in the middle of the second half and a total of eight lead changes.
Although the ‘Cats shot poorly on the night — just 33.3 percent from the field — they were lead by junior forward Danielle Diamant who put up 16 points and seven rebounds. Roser, freshman guard Morgan Jones and junior forward Kendall Hackney also scored in double digits for the ‘Cats.
Northwestern had a clear size advantage and sought to utilize it against a small Illinois squad. The ‘Cats out-rebounded the Illini and 26 of NU’s points came from in the paint.
“Coaches before this game made a huge emphasis on boxing out,” Diamant said. “But on offense definitely taking advantage of our size advantage.”
This physical play cause problems for NU down the stretch. Both Diamant and guard Allison Mocchi fouled out before game’s end. Both players were missed in the final minutes of the game.
While McKeown noted faults of his team, including foul troubles and leaving Moore open to make a three with 12 seconds remaining, but was happy with the team’s ability to fight through these problems.
“We had a lot of injuries, a lot of foul trouble, but we just kind of held on,” McKeown said. “The Big Ten is shaping up to be a great league and you just got to find a way to win.”
The team faced adversity in this game as it has all season. Junior Tailor Jones went out in the first half and the team has been without senior forward Brittany Orban since she injured her leg against NC State.
“We’ve handled [adversity] about as well as you can, as far as people, you know, sucking it up, making plays, just toughing things out,” McKeown said. “I thought we did that tonight. The one thing about injuries or graduations, when you lose a great player, it creates opportunities for other people.”
The team’s next game comes Thursday night when they host the Michigan Wolverines in Evanston. That game will tip off at 7:00 p.m. CT.