DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team wiped its mouth clean after getting the bad taste of Tuesday's loss out with a 68-51 win over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Convocation Center. With the Huskies' first Mid-American Conference Tournament win since 2007, No. 7 NIU (13-16, 6-10 MAC) eliminated No. 10 WMU (8-22, 5-11 MAC) and will face No. 6 Akron (14-17, 7-9 MAC) in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday, March 7, at 1:30 PM CT in the second round.
"It's just an awesome feeling," said NIU Head Coach Kathi Bennett, who is now 1-1 in the MAC Tournament and 26-15 overall in postseason play. "Our goal was to get to Cleveland. To accomplish that feels good. That first game is always the toughest. Now, we can play free and have an underdog mentality, which is really exciting."
Just four days ago, the same WMU team came into the Convo and walked away with a 66-64 overtime victory, avenging a 53-41 loss in Kalamazoo, Mich., to the Huskies on Jan. 19. The aftermath in the standings following Tuesday's win created this rematch as the Broncos overcame a six-point deficit with four minutes left to force overtime and eventually win. WMU scored 30 points in the paint, held NIU to a 35.6 shooting percentage, and was led by Aurielle Anderson's 29 points, including scoring all nine of WMU's overtime points.
The rubbermatch was a different story as the two teams had never met in the MAC Tournament before. Clearly, NIU was the better team on this day as the Huskies posted their largest win against a MAC opponent this season and second largest overall this season while shooting a deft 61 percent from the field -- the best percentage in NIU postseason and NIU Convocation Center history.
NIU held WMU out of the paint, mainly Anderson, as the Broncos scored just 16 points in the paint to NIU's 30. The Huskie defense let it be known early that the paint would be valued as Anderson hit the floor hard several times in her first few drives. She was limited to just 15 points in leading WMU in scoring.
Much like NIU could not solve Anderson on Tuesday, WMU had no answer for Amanda Corral (Hobart, Ind./Hobart). In her first MAC Tournament, the freshman scored 13 of NIU's first 26 points as the Huskies led wire-to-wire thanks to a 13-2 start.
Over the game's first 6:30, NIU hit five of its first eight shots and two of three free throws, while WMU opened 1-for-10 on field goals. By halftime, NIU had a 30-17 lead and the offense was flowing with nine assists on 11 baskets.
"I really want to compliment Coach [Joe] Conroy," Bennett said. "We watched the film [of Tuesday's loss] and his assessment really helped on the offensive end. We made some good adjustments to help us score. We started the game off hot and I thought that had a huge influence on how the rest of the game played out."
In the second half, NIU kept WMU comfortably distant with a ridiculous 82.4 shooting percentage (14-for-17). The Huskies built a 25-point lead with 11:23 left and WMU would get no closer than 16 rest of the way.
"[The second half shooting percentage] was crazy," said Bennett. "Amanda was on fire. That had a lot to do with our shooting percentage."
Corral led NIU with a career-high 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-3 from 3-point land. Her 3-point performance tied the NIU conference tournament percentage record set by Denise Dove, who was also 3-for-3 in 1990.
Kim Davis (Evanston, Ill./Evanston) and Satavia Taylor (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook/Loyola) scored in double figures as well, adding 14 and 13 points, respectively.
"Hopefully it's going to be a great finish for our seniors because they've been a big part of this rebuilding process," said Bennett. "For our young ones to get to Cleveland and understand what it's all about is huge. This is a really good start."