The NIU women's basketball team took part in the #Layup4Lauren Challenge Wednesday morning, honoring Lauren Hill of Mount Saint Joseph's fight for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). For more information, visit LayupForLauren.com
Highlights from the Huskies-Rockets overtime bout February 27, 2014, in which NIU defeated Toledo, 68-59. Northern Illinois outscored Toledo in the final 11 minutes of the game -- including overtime -- 28-12.
The Huskies improved to 2-2 on the season and 2-0 at home against in-state foe Bradley with a 63-60 victory.
Kathi Bennett, a veteran collegiate head coach who has guided three programs to eight NCAA Tournaments and five conference championships while posting a career winning percentage of .574 (341-253), was named head women's basketball coach at Northern Illinois University, May 18 2010, and has received a contract extension through the 2017 season. Through four seasons, Bennett owns a 45-76 record with the Huskies, including three wins the Mid-American Conference Tournament and a quarterfinal appearance in 2012.
In her fourth season in charge, 2013-14, the Huskies finished the season as the MAC's No. 2 defense behind regular season champion Bowling Green as NIU only allowed 64.0 points per game. The Huskies also earned two victories over Missouri Valley Conference teams, defeating in-state rivals Bradley (63-60) and Illinois State (57-52). Against Central Michigan on Feb. 22, one of Bennett's first recruits to NIU, Amanda Corral, surpassed the 1,000-point mark becoming the 28th player in school history to accomplish the feat.
In the first two seasons under her guidance, the Huskies went from a 10-win team in 2009-10 to a 13-win team in 2010-11, despite losing three starters. More importantly, NIU improved from a 4-12 record in Mid-American Conference play to a 7-9 mark in 2010-11 season.
In 2011-12, Bennett directed a youthful roster full of nine underclassmen to the MAC quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 with a 14-17 record, 6-10 in MAC play. The splash in the MAC postseason marked the Huskies' first trip to Cleveland since 2009 and first win in the MAC Tournament since 2007. NIU's last second victory over Akron in the tournament landed the Huskies on the front page of the NCAA's Women's Basketball page.
For their success, the Huskies were invited to play in the Preseason WNIT, where they opened the season at Iowa. Though NIU lost to the Hawkeyes, Northern Illinois would go on to win two-consecutive games in the tournament to finish 2-1.
For the second time in three seasons under Bennett, NIU advanced to Cleveland for the Mid-American Conference Tournament as it defeated Eastern Michigan on the road in overtime, 81-76, to take on eventual runnerup Ball State in the second round. Corral would garner Third Team All-MAC honors at season's end and CoSIDA Academic All-District accolades in season as she maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA with 13.5 points per game average.
Showing the principles of Bennett's famed "pack" defense, the 2011-12 Huskies ranked in the top four in the league in scoring defense, opponent field goal percentage, opponent three-point percentage and defensive rebounding. NIU also ranked 57th in the country in free throw percentage.
Bennett, who earned her 300th career win with NIU to join her father, legendary coach Dick Bennett, on the 300-career-win list, came to NIU after two seasons as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, where she coached the Badgers' defense and was instrumental in UW making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years in 2010. Wisconsin finished tied for third in the league and led the Big Ten in scoring defense in 2010 after ranking 10th in the league in that category prior to her arrival.
A native of Stevens Point, Wis., Bennett is the sister of University of Virginia head men's basketball coach Tony Bennett; her father won 316 games as a collegiate coach at Washington State, Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay and UW-Stevens Point. Kathi played collegiately at both Stevens Point and Green Bay and earned her bachelor's degree from UW-Green Bay in 1986.
Bennett's 22 years of experience as a collegiate head coach include stops at Marycrest College (1988-89), Wisconsin-Oshkosh (1989-96), Evansville (1996-2000) and Indiana (2000-05). Her career record of 323-211 includes 15 winning campaigns and nine postseason appearances. Bennett is looking forward to developing another winner at Northern Illinois.
"I'm a builder. It's who I am. I know that's what is in me," Bennett said. "The opportunity to build this program... that thumps in my heart."
Fundamental to Bennett's formula for building programs are the "five cornerstones:" passion, servanthood, unity, humility and thankfulness. Developed by her father, Bennett has implemented the cornerstones in their current form since her days at Evansville.
"(The cornerstones) are intangible qualities that we want to instill and stand for in our program," Bennett said. "Hopefully when our players leave, they are things they will carry with them."
Bennett was successful coaching even before the cornerstones were inked into her coaching handbook. Under her guidance, UW-Oshkosh won the 1996 NCAA Division III National Championship with a perfect 31-0 record after playing in the national title game the previous season. She was named Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year five times and was the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association Division III Coach of the Year in 1996.
At Evansville, Bennett took over a program that had an all-time record of 18-113, engineered a 13-game turnaround and led the Purple Aces to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1999. She was named the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year that season. In 1999-2000, she led Evansville to a school-record 23 wins and a WNIT berth.
The next year, Bennett took over an Indiana program that went 10-18 the year before. Immediately, the Hoosiers embarked on a seven-game winning streak, their longest in two years. Under Bennett's guidance, the Hoosiers doubled their win total to finish with a 20-11 record, and tied for sixth in the Big Ten standings, their best finish since 1997-98.
A season later, Bennett's 2002 Indiana team won the Big Ten Conference Tournament title as the No. 5 seed, defeating No. 1 seed Purdue and regular season champion Penn State. It was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Indiana since 1994-95. In five years in Bloomington, Bennett's Hoosier teams defeated six Top 25 opponents and claimed a pair of victories over Top 10 foes. For her part, Bennett is confident that Northern Illinois' women's basketball team can and will be successful.
"This is a place where we can contend for the MAC title, and become a player on the national scene," she said. "The university is diverse, it's strong academically and it is big enough to offer a great atmosphere, but small enough to give its students personal attention. The location and the facilities are excellent. I'm excited to work with Dr. Doug Baker, Sean Frazier and the rest of the staff to reach our goals."
First season as a coach
NCAA D-III Tournament Second Round
NCAA D-III Tournament Second Round, WIAC Coach of the Year
NCAA D-III Tournament First Round
NCAA D-III Tournament Quarterfinals, WIAC Coach of the Year
NCAA D-III National Runner-Up
NCAA D-III National Championship, WBCA NCAA D-III Coach of the Year, WIAC Coach of the Year
Took over a program that had a 18-113 all-time record
First NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, Missouri Valley Coach of the Year
WNIT First Round
Big Ten Tournament Champions, NCAA D-I Tournament First Round
Team USA Assistant Coach, Pan American Games
Big Ten Conference All-Star Team Head Coach
Took UW from 10th to second in Big Ten scoring defense
Badgers led Big Ten in scoring defense (56.2 ppg)
Badgers led Big Ten in scoring defense (56.2 ppg)
Improved wins by 30%, 75% in conference, from prior year
Gave NIU its first win and quarterfinals appearance in MAC Tourney since 2007
Finished 2-1 in the Preseason WNIT
Reached Second Round of MAC Tournament, Amanda Corral reaches 1,000 point club.