Indiana Storms Past Northwestern in Big Ten Tournament Play
March 6, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana's Amber Jackson delivered the inside punches against Northwestern, and Nikki Smith finished the knockout combination with her second half 3-pointers Thursday.
It was too much for the undermanned Wildcats to handle.
Jackson scored Indiana's first 11 points, finished with 15, and Smith's back-to-back 3s to open the second half sealed the outcome as the sixth-seeded Hoosiers blew out Northwestern 74-52 in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
"We made a statement with how we started out," coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. "We're not going to come out and take anything for granted. We're going to dictate."
The Hoosiers (18-13) followed Legette-Jack's mandate perfectly.
They dominated the inside early, shut down the Wildcats on defense and methodically extended their lead to reach the tournament quarterfinals for the seventh time in eight years. The victory set up yet another postseason matchup against in-state rival Purdue, the third seed, on Friday.
For Northwestern (5-26), the game looked as bleak as its season, which ended with just one conference victory in 19 games. The Wildcats also extended their tournament losing streak to eight, dating to 2000, and after losing four players to season-ending injuries, the result was no surprise.
But the Wildcats' dismal performance was.
"They were making four passes in the paint and we were not making stops," Northwestern coach Beth Combs said. "It kind of put us in a hole early."
The Wildcats couldn't break out of their rut.
They shot 36.4 percent from the field, were badly outrebounded early and committed 19 turnovers -- most when the game was still competitive. Jenny Eckhart, with 13 points, and freshman Amy Jaeschke, who had 11, were the only players to reach double figures.
The Hoosiers, in contrast, answered every challenge.
Jackson got things started quickly, scoring the first seven points of the game and needed less than seven minutes to help the Hoosiers build a 17-6 lead.
"My teammates found me when I was open," she said. "I was a little nervous. It's like a new season. Hopefully we can do well and make some noise."
Figuring out how to defend Jackson was only part of Northwestern's problem.
Once Jackson slowed down, Indiana's Jamie Braun began asserting herself on defense. Braun, the Hoosiers top scorer, didn't score Thursday but still produced five assists, three steals and at least a half-dozen deflected balls that the Hoosiers often turned into baskets.
Enter Jori Davis, the backup guard, who finished the first half with her own scoring showcase to help the Hoosiers extend their halftime lead to 38-24. Davis finished with 14 points, and the Hoosiers' margin was comfortable enough to keep the usually excitable Legette-Jack calm on the sidelines.
"I'm kind of old-school, I believe defense creates offense and you win championships by playing defense," Legette-Jack said. "So it was good to see that although I think we kind of lost our focus a little bit in this game."
It didn't matter.
When Smith opened the second half with two straight 3s, the Hoosiers led 44-26 and never looked back. Northwestern only got as close as 17 the rest of the way, and the 22-point victory margin was the largest in tournament play since Purdue beat Indiana by 26 in 2006.
To the Wildcats, it seemed all too familiar.
"All season long we've struggled with boxing people out, and once again we didn't step up and box out," Jaeschke said. "I think that's what's been killing us all season, and it killed us again today."
Whitney Thomas finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, and Kim Roberson added 10 points for the Hoosiers.
But it wasn't enough to satisfy Indiana, which hopes to make an impression this weekend on the NCAA tournament committee.
"Everyone wants to win, but at the end of the day, you've got to stand for something and we want to win championships and create a dynasty here," Legette-Jack said. "We want to get to another level, and to do that, we've got to keep competing."