Evanston, IL -- This evening's game between the Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena, was a story of determination versus potential. The Wildcats ranked 20th nationally, entered the game with a 1-5 record over their last six games. The Hoosiers, in their away reds, came into tonight's game having pulled off their third conference win in which they entered the forth quarter trailing, against the Illinois Illini.
The Wildcats spent the first half of Big Ten play amidst the top 3-5 teams, but have spiraled and now find themselves in the bottom quarter of all teams.
"The past three games have been a little rough. We have had some ups and downs with turnovers," Ashley Deary said on her team's slide in the Big Ten.
Northwestern is also boasting four of the top players in the conference: Nia Coffey, Christen Inman, Ashley Deary and Maggie Lyon; who just surpassed the school record for all-time three-point baskets made. Seemingly their potential is endless to sit atop, and remain atop the conference. Yet, something isn't clicking for the Wildcats as they transition into the second half of conference play.
The Hoosiers on the opposite site of the court are unranked, yet they sit two spots above the Wildcats in conference standings and seem to be climbing their way to the top. They may have started the season slow, and as it appears to tend to start each game a bit timid, but nonetheless they have earned the title of the conference's comeback kids.
A young team lead by sophomore trio Tyra Buss, Amanda Cahill and Jess Walter. The team's entire roster includes only a single senior. Often times a young roster is of concern to a coach, but in this case, it could be the young team simply hasn't learned the bad habit of giving up.
As the ball was tipped, the game was going to be determined not by the numbers on a stat sheet, but by each team's ability to overcome their individual challenges. As expected, the entirety of the first half was played evenly, swings of momentum resulting in flurries of scores and shooting droughts allowing the opposition back within striking distance.
Northwestern wasn't hitting shots as efficiently as the Hoosiers, but there were no other obvious reasons, the Wildcats entered the locker room trailing Indiana 36-41.
The locker room discussion for each team surely broke down the stats sheet, the other teams systems and addressed more efficient ways to put the ball into the hole. But the real discussion that needed to be had was about the intangibles that ultimately win a game and are a mark of a team's desire to win.
Intangibles like hustle plays, defense, distributing the ball within a system, all of the things that a team determined to win possess. Ashley Deary and Nia Coffey had no questions to determine from the minute the second half clock started to tick down, each closing the game with 28 and 29 points, respectively.
"Today was all in for me," said Deary on her performance in today's game.
The rest of the Wildcats squad seemed to have missed the cue to up shift the tempo.
In the other hand, in their wondrously naive fashion, the Hoosiers simply didn't know how to play any other way than hard and to win. Tyra Buss closed the game with a solid 21 point performance that was accented with a flurry of hustle plays, excitement and momentum builders.
"She plays within that team and finds people when they are open. She hit big shots and got to the rim late in the game and made some plays," stated Northwestern Coach Joe McKeown on Tyra Buss in his post game interview.
She was aided by her teammates Amanda Cahill, who ended with 20, Jess Walter, who bucketed 15, Karlee McBride added 14, and Alexis Gassion sent in 12. Slow start or not, it was a whole team effort, the Hoosiers obviously don't know how to say die.
So, as most all of the greatest sports stories go, determination bested potential tonight. Tyra Buss celebrated by lifting Head Coach Moren and spinning her in a circle because once again the Hoosiers were the team to beat in the forth quarter. Indiana won the game 91-84, and I am sure Coach Moren couldn't be more excited to see what her young team has in store for Indiana in the coming games.
Indiana's next opponent is Rutgers January 27th in Bloomington.