DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team suffered a hard-fought loss to Toledo on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center as UT's Andola Dortch sank a last-second shot to avenge being upset in the same building a year ago as the defending 2009-10 Mid-American Conference champions.
The league's pre-season pick to win the MAC West, Toledo (9-7, 2-2 MAC) escaped with a win this time around thanks in part to an unfortunate ending for NIU. After Dortch banked in a tough fade-away shot from the left block with 21 seconds left to give the Rockets a 48-47 lead, the Huskies (6-10, 0-4 MAC) called timeout to set up a potential game-winning play. The play that was dialed up resulted in a decent look for Claire Jakubicek (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) but her driving layup from the left side just rimmed out. Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) grabbed the board and threw up a tough over-the-shoulder layup from the right side to no avail and Toledo grabbed the board.
Following a quick NIU foul, Dortch made the first free throw but missed the second and the ball deflected out of bounds off of Toledo with 4.8 seconds left. Out of another timeout, the Huskies inbounded the ball to Taylor near half court but the ball went through her hands right to a Rocket player and Toledo ran out the clock.
"We wanted to throw it up to half court and blast," said NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett. "If we catch it there, we can make a play -- drive and kick, drive and get a foul, anything. That play didn't lose us the game. It's not on Satavia. We had chances earlier in the game to make it not come down to that. I thought we deserved this game but that's life. It's not always fair."
All was not lost on that one play, however. Despite NIU's losing streak being pushed to six games, the Huskies showed glaring signs of improvement on the parts of their game that had been hampering them during this rough patch.
In almost every of the last five games, NIU fell behind early and had to play catch-up the rest of the game to dig out of a hole. Against Toledo, it was the Huskies who came out firing as they opened up an 11-4 lead to being the game. Toledo responded with an 11-0 run right after to take the lead, but NIU never let the Rockets get too far in front. The largest lead NIU had to deal with was a five-point edge.
"Down the stretch, we missed some good shots but the effort was there," Bennett said. "There were five or six times where we'd be down by five and we made an unbelievable play to get back. I felt like that happened at least five times in the game and I am very proud of the way we fought back each time."
Over the past five games, the Huskies had also been averaging 21.8 turnovers per game. Versus the Rockets, NIU only turned the ball over 12 times.
"I thought we were the best we've been offensively," Bennett said. "We took care of the ball and did a good job of moving the ball. We went through cold stretches. We were stuck on 11 forever. If we can eliminate those cold stretches we will be better."
Prior to the go-ahead shot for Toledo, the Huskies had erased a late five-point deficit with a layup from Jakubicek and two free throws from Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart). Then, Jakubicek nailed a jumper from the left wing to put NIU ahead 47-46 with 2:07 remaining.
Jakubicek led NIU in scoring for the second straight game as she scored 15 points. Combined with her 12-point performance at Ball State, she is averaging 10.5 points per game in MAC play.
Courtney Shelton (Rockford, Ill./Hononegah) and Corral each scored in double figures as well. Shelton turned in 13 points, while Corral had 11 and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Huskies return to action with a road trip to Kalamazoo, Mich., for a 6 PM CT meeting with Western Michigan on Thursday, January 19.