Holding on to a one point lead with under 10 seconds left, the Northern Illinois (1-1) defense stifled So-Con preseason favorite Davidson (0-2) to force a turnover and seal their victory Saturday in the consolation round of the WNIT, 64-61.
NIU led by as much as 18 in the contest.
“It felt good to get a win, especially with how the first half went down,” said head coach Kathi Bennett in the post-game radio interview. “I loved how we played in that first half but we just lost a little composure down the stretch. It was good to get a win and be in that (game) situation tonight.”
Sophomore guard Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind.) shot and slashed her way to 12 points in the first half, including nine of those in the first 10 minutes of the first tilt. While the Huskies and the Wildcats traded leads in the first part of the half, NIU extended its lead in the latter minutes of the first stanza, started on a fast break layup by Danny Pulliam (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), extending the NIU lead to three points, 17-14.
Following a DU missed jumper by Sophia Alexandravicius, the So-Con’s reigning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, senior Shaakira Haywood (Canton, Mich./Plymouth) further improved the NIU lead, driving from the baseline to underneath the basket, gaining a five point advantage.
The Northern Illinois defense was impressive throughout the game, forcing the Wildcats to shoot a dismal 25 percent on 6-of-24 attempts in the first half and 34 percent through 40 minutes. The collapsing Huskie defense swarmed Davidson’s 6-4 center Alexandravicius, double-teaming her and still managing to pressure on the dump passes to behind the arc, the Wildcats’ strength a week ago in a 70-59 loss to Preseason WNIT finalist North Carolina.
With seven seconds left in the first half, Jada Buggs (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) stole the ball from DU’s Shannon Eriksson, and dumped to Natecia Augusta (Peoria/Limestone) with time expiring. The sophomore worked under the basket and scored a statement layup before the red lamps lit and buzzers blaring, to give the Huskies a 13-point lead at the half, 35-22.
Northern Illinois matched Davidson’s energy at the start of the second half, not allowing the Wildcats a fast start and their position back into the game.
With every Wildcat basket, the Huskies answered with their respective shot. With 12 minutes remaining in the second half, sophomore Jenna Thorp (Hinckley/Hinckley-Big Rock) cut to the lane, attempting a layup and was fouled as soon as she threw the ball up. She completed the three-point play with a made free throw to give NIU its then-biggest lead of the day at 15, 46-31.
Thorp continued her strong play for NIU, adding another three points on an and-one chance 1:05 later and added another layup with 9:28 left. She finished the game with 10 points, all in the second half.
“I thought Jenna did a really good job for us the in the second half,” Bennett added. “She really got us rolling in a lot of tough looks and tough shots.”
The Wildcats surged back with six minutes left in the stanza, cutting their deficit to a single digit for the first time in 16 minutes. Augusta followed up with a layup to send the lead back to double-digits, but a pair of DU field goals and a free throw put the Wildcats to within six at 56-50 with 4:53 left.
Northern Illinois was flustered by the Davidson defense when it shifted to a full court press in the final minutes of the game, rallying to within one point on a pair of free throws by Katrin Chiemeka.
The Huskies had a chance to extend their lead with less than a minute remaining, but Pulliam turned the ball over to Alexandrivicius with 32 seconds remaining.
Davidson called a timeout to strategize its final play with 27 seconds remaining and 25 on the shot clock. DU moved the ball around the arc to run the clock, and when forced to shoot with the shot clock under five, Chiemeka drove low on Augusta but the Peoria native forced the Wildcat to travel and turn the ball over with eight seconds left in the game.
After being fouled on the ensuing possession, Augusta hit two free throws to put the Huskies back up by three, where they finished the game at 64-61. She finished the game with a career high 16 points in 21 minutes.
“Natecia had some fine play. She had a very good game and even defensively she bodied and did a good job inside,” Bennett said.
The Huskies finished 25-of-45 from the floor to finish with a shooting percentage of 55.6 percent. NIU also had 14 helpers in the game, but turned the ball over 24 times.