Huskies Continue Road Swing at Western Illinois

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Nov. 15, 2010

Northern Illinois (1-1, 0-0 MAC) at Western Illinois (0-1, 0-0 Summit)
 Date Tuesday, Nov. 16  •  7 p.m. CDT
 Location Macomb, Ill. • Western Hall
 On the Air
Huskie All-Access (Live Audio)
 NIUHuskies.com

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 All-Time Series NIU leads 23-16 - Each team won last game on opponent's floor

MACOMB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois women's basketball team reaches the halfway point of a five-game season-opening road trip when the Huskies face in-state rival Western Illinois, Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Western Hall.

The Series
Northern Illinois leads the all-time series 23-16, but it was the Leathernecks who earned the win last year, 50-48. The series has been characterized be long periods of domiantion by each side. NIU won the first seve match-ups. Western Illinois came back with 10 straight victories before the Huskies strung together 12 consecutive wins from 1981-98. WIU then won five of the next six, with the Huskies taking three of the last four.

About the Leathernecks
Western Illinois opened the year at No. 17 Iowa State, and trailed by only five points at halftime to the Cyclones before losing 58-32. Junior college transfter Valencia Kelly led WIU with 11 points. Iowa State held Western Illinois to only six points on 2-of-20 (10 percent) shooting in the second half.

Last Time Out
The Northern Illinois women's basketball team fought back from a nine-point second half deficit to beat George Washington, 66-60, giving Kathi Bennett her first win as head coach of the Huskies.

The Huskies (1-1) were down 49-40 after Colonial forward Ivy Abiona scored inside and drew the third foul on NIU center Ebony Ellis with 11:01 left in the game. Bennett left Ellis in the game despite the foul trouble, and the Huskies finished the game with a 26-11 run.

Ellis finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds, including nine points and five boards in the second half alone.

Senior Marke Freeman, who scored a game-high 25 points, spurred the Huskie comeback. She hit a three-pointer to cut George Washington's lead to six, and added a conventional three-point play 90 seconds later to bring NIU within three. The Huskies continued to battle, tying the game at 55 with 3:42 on the clock with a free throw by sophomore Kim Davis.

The Colonials (0-2) answered to go up 57-55 on a put-back by Abiona. On the next play, Davis rebounded a miss by Ellis, scored to tie the game, and drew a foul on Megan Nipe. Davis sunk the ensuing free throw to put NIU up 58-57.

George Washington turned the ball over one play later, and Davis nailed a jumper to give Northern Illinois a three-point lead. From there the Huskies went 6-of-6 from the free throw line to seal the win.

Freeman started hot and never slowed down. The Preseason All-MAC West Team selection hit two three-pointers in the first three minutes of the game. She finished with four threes on the day, and went 9-for-15 from the field.

In addition to four steals, Freeman drew a key charge on Abiona with 5:41 on the clock. Her efforts earned a place on the Best Buy Classic All-Tournament team. The Huskies placed third in the event.

Last Meeting with WIU
In a game that saw 10 ties and 11 lead changes, the Leathernecks (1-1) took the lead with 1:13 remaining on an Erica Lewis layup and held off the Huskies (1-1) to escape DeKalb with a 50-48 win. Northern Illinois hit just 1-of-15 shots from the three-point line in a game where just one more make could have tipped the balance in the Huskies' favor. The closed rim on three-pointers weighted NIU to a 36.7 percent (18-of-49) performance from the field.

On the Air
Every NIU basketball game of the 2010-11 season can be heard on the Northern Illinois Sports Network, Presented by IMG. Women's games home and away can be heard on 1360-AM WLBK and Huskie All-Access at NIUHuskies.com. Home games can also be watched live through Huskie All-Access.

Honors For Freeman
Senior Marke Freeman earned a place on the 2010 Best Buy Classic All-Tournament Team after averaging 16 points, 2.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds per game. Freeman scored 25 in NIU's win over George Washington, including hitting 4-of-6 three-pointers.

Freeman was also named to the Preseason All-MAC West Team. Freeman was a MAC All-Conference Second Team performer in 2009-10, an award that includes players from both divisions. She led the Huskies in scoring with 16.8 points per game, scored at least 20 points on 10 separate occasions, and surpassed the 30-point mark three times. She also ranked second in the league in steals with 2.7 per contest.

Slow Start, Strong Finish
The Huskies got off to a slow shooting start against George Washington, hitting just 5-of-20 shots to open the game. NIU found its groove, finishing 18-of-33 (54.5 percent) to close the game with a 43.4 percent shooting mark.

The Huskies also picked things up in the second half defensively, stifling George Washington to a 28.6 percent (10-35) second half performance from the field. NIU held George Washington without a field goal from 9:16-4:19 in the second half,

First Year Wonder
First year head coach Kathi Bennett is 58-52 (.527) in her inaugural years with programs, despite taking reclamation projects at every stop. Her best record was a 20-11 mark in 2000-01 at Indiana. At the four schools she has been the head coach of, Bennett's teams have been under .500 only once in her first seasons. Evansville, a program that had only won 18 games in its history, went 3-23 in her initial year.

Discounting Bennett's inaugural season at Evansville, she is 55-29 (.655) in year one. If Bennett can accomplish the same winning percentage at NIU that she has in her first years at other schools, it would be the first finish over .500 for the Huskie women's basketball program since 2006-07.

Three-Year Turnarounds
Bennett has taken teams to eight NCAA Tournaments: six at UW-Oshkosh, and one at both Evansville and Indiana. More impressively, Bennett did so in less than three years at every stop. She coached Oshkosh to the NCAA Division III tournament in her first season with the program. It took three seasons for her to take Evansville from a 3-23 squad to a 19-11 NCAA Tournament team. At Indiana, she won the Big Ten Tournament to earn a place in the tournament in just her second season.

Milestone Victories
Northern Illinois achieved its 400th win a member of NCAA Division I. The Huskies are now 400-414 (.491) in NCAA competition. Overall, NIU is 574-565 (.504) and since joining the AIAW, the women's athletics precursor (and at one time, competitor) to the NCAA in 1971-72, the Huskies are 501-523 (.489).

Career Opener
Courtney Shelton must like being a team captain. The junior scored a career-high 16 points, including 15 in the first half in NIU's season-opener against Minnesota. Shelton also added five assists and made three treys against the Gophers. One day later, Shelton scored only three points, but added five assists and six rebounds in a 66-60 win over GW,

Three Away
Bennett is just four wins away from joining her father Dick among the ranks of 300-game winners. With a record of 297-179 (.624), Bennett has averaged 17.4 wins per year over her career. She has totalled double-digit wins 15 times, and has been over .500 in 12 of her 17 seasons as a head coach.

Healthy Ellis Back for Senior Year
Senior Ebony Ellis also returns for her final season, giving the Huskies two All-MAC performers. Ellis missed 10 games of 2009-10 with a foot injury, but was an All-MAC Honorable Mention honoree in 2008-09. Ellis averaged 12.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting .500 from the floor. Now healthy, Ellis figures to be a major factor in the NIU gameplan this year.

Eight Ball
Ellis is currently averaging 8.6 points and 7.9 rebounds for her career. If she only slightly improves her rebounding, she will be the first player to average at least 8.0 and 8.0 for a career since Jennifer Youngblood put up 12.4 points and 8.6 boards per game from 2000-04.

Something to Work With
Bennett takes over a team that not only returns two All-MAC performers, but won 10 games and lost nine games by eight points or less. In terms of wins, the 2009-10 Huskies were the best team to have a new coach the following season since the 1993-94 squad went 24-6 in Jane Albright's final year before retiring. The next season Liz Galloway-McQuitter went 17-14 and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Since, Carol Hammerle took over a four-win team in 1998-99, and Carol Owens coached a team that was 7-21 in the year prior to her arrival. All told, six out of the seven NIU women's basketball coaches to take over someone else's program have improved upon their predecessor's final season.

New Sensation
Redshirt sophomore Kim Davis, who did not play competitive basketball in 2008-09, is the Huskies' second leading scorer and top rebounder through two games. Davis is averaging 12 points per game, while shooting 47.6 percent from the field, and is tallying 5.0 rebounds per game. Davis had back-to-back huge plays in NIU's win over George Washington. First, she put back a miss by Ebony Ellis to tie the game and was fouled on the play. Davis hit the free throw to give NIU a one-point lead. One play later Davis hit a left-handed lay-up to put NIU up by three, a lead the Huskies carried to the win.

Davis played her freshman season as a walk-on at Eastern Michigan, where she started 10 games and played in 24 contests. She left the team after her freshman year to transfer to a school that was closer to her home of Evanston, Ill. Davis ended up at NIU, where she attended classes but was not a part of the basketball team. Bennett discovered Davis after Huskie freshman Jenna Thorp went down with an injury in the summer, and convinced Davis to join the Huskies.

On the Road Again, and Again, and Again
The Huskies will be living out of suitcases for the first two months of the season. NIU plays only once at home in its first 11 games and has only three total non-conference home games. That is the fewest amount of non-league home games in a season since 1998-99, when head coach Carol Hammerle took her team on the road in 7-of-10 non-conference match-ups.

NIU is in the midst of a season-opening, five-game road trip. After Western Illinois, the Huskies will face Southern Illinois and Temple on the road before returning home to host Chicago State. After battling the Cougars, Northern Illinois will embark on a second five-game road swing before wrapping up its non-conference slate at home with games against Loyola and Illinois State.

Chasing 1,000
Both Freeman and Ellis could be chasing their 1,000th point by the end of the season. Freeman is just 195 points shy, and would need to average 7.0 points per game over the Huskies' 28 remaining assured contests to reach the milestone before her career is up. If she does so, Freeman will become the first player to reach 1,000 points in just three seasons since Stephanie Raymond reach the mark as a junior in 2005-06.

Ellis is 323 points off, and would need to average 11.5 ppg in NIU's 28 guaranteed games to reach a grand. Ellis averaged 12.0 points per game last season, despite battling a foot injury for the bulk of the year. If both Ellis and Freeman join the esteemed club, it would be the first time two Huskies passed the milestone in one season since Kristan Knake and Jennifer Youngblood did so in the 2002-03 season.

Packed with Turnovers
The 26 turnovers committed by Minnesota were the most by an NIU opponent since Western Michigan had 26 in a January 19, 2007 match-up in DeKalb.

Assist-Rebound Duos
With 30 more assists, Marke Freeman will become the 16th Huskie to reach 250 in her career. It will also mark the first time in four years that a member of both the NIU 250-Assist Club and 600-Rebund Club have played on the same team. Ellis passed the 600-board milestone last season, and has now totaled 615, 15th most in NIU history. The last pair to play together as members of the two clubs were Kristin Wiener (629 career rebounds) and Stephanie Raymond (497 career assists) in 2006-07.