DeKALB – The Northern Illinois women's basketball team's first conference win was within their grasp against Toledo on Saturday,
Amanda Corral began her charge up the court with 8.4 seconds left and the Huskies down two. Corral picked up her dribble one step inside the three-point line and looked to pass, but she didn't see a teammate open. So Corral held the ball, finally releasing a pass as time expired, and the Huskies lost, 44-42, their seventh straight loss and sixth to start the MAC season.
“It's pretty frustrating,” Corral said of the Huskies' final possession. “I think that's part of being pretty young, I think I should have realized that we had eight seconds, and I shouldn't have picked my dribble up at the end.”
Despite the costly error, the Huskies (5-14, 0-6 Mid-American Conference West) made progress. Toledo (17-2, 5-1 MAC West) was voted the preseason favorite to win the MAC West, and the Rockets have only lost once in their last 17 games, garnering a few national top 25 votes along the way.
Toledo was ranked fourth in the conference in scoring offense and second in scoring defense, and the Huskies held the Rockets to their lowest scoring output of the season.
“To play as well as we did defensively ... you've got to be on, you've got to be locked in,” coach Kathi Bennett said. “We did that for 40 minutes. The other side of the ball, that's where we struggle, and we still have to improve in that area, but I saw some signs.”
The Rockets' biggest lead was five with 35 seconds remaining in the first half. Satavia Taylor, who scored 11 in the first half, cut into that lead with a layup just before time expired, and the Huskies went into the break down, 24-21.
Corral, who scored 13 points, gave the Huskies their first lead of the second half when she drained a three-pointer with 8:13 remaining. The lead would change hands five times before the final buzzer.
Taylor gave the Huskies a 42-41 lead with 1:54 remaining, but Toledo forward Inma Zanoguera answered 14 seconds later with a layup of her own.
The Huskies have lost all seven of their games in 2013, but this defeat was one they think they can build off of.
“We definitely made progress, especially since the beginning of the MAC, we're starting to get the hang of things,” Taylor said. “We're playing harder on defense. Today was a big improvement on defense. We're lasting longer, we're making the other team get more turnovers, and then just playing better on offense.”
NIU showed the defensive prowess necessary to hang with one of the MAC's top teams on Saturday. If the Huskies can carry over their effort from Saturday, Bennett thinks they'll be chalking up wins soon enough.
“Toledo is one of the best defensive teams in our league,” Bennett said. “Our movement caused them trouble. I feel if we continue to do what we're doing offensively, against lesser defensive-oriented teams, it's really going to come together. I like what I see from them.”