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Northwestern Women's Basketball Earns Signature Win over No. 15 DePaul

Aaron MorseCorrespondent INovember 26, 2009

19 MAR 1995:  GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HEAD COACH JOE MCKEOWN LEAD HIS ATLANTIC 1O CHAMPION COLONIAL WOMEN TO A SECOND ROUND DEFEAT OF DRAKE IN THE WOMEN''S NCAA TOUNAMENT AT THE GWU SMITH CENTER.  Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/ALLSPORT
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

When Joe McKeown coached women's basketball at George Washington, success wasn't something fans hoped for, it was what they expected.

During his 19 seasons there, he went to the NCAA Tournament 15 times. His final two years were some of his best, as GW advanced to the Sweet 16 both seasons.

Then he left and came to Northwestern.

Northwestern women's basketball has had what McKeown has described as "a losing culture" for over a decade. The last time they made the Big Dance was 1997, where they lost in the first round to McKeown's GW squad.

Last year was McKeown's first season in Evanston, where he suffered his first losing record as a head coach. Northwestern won three Big Ten games last year. That matched their combined Big Ten wins total from the previous TWO seasons.

But this year they're off to a 4-0 start and upset No. 15 DePaul Tuesday night by a final score of 59-55.

They did it mostly through the leadership and determination of players who were recruited by former NU head coach Beth Combs.

Combs showed some good recruiting during her finals years in Evanston, but McKeown's coaching ability has been what's made the difference. They enjoy playing for him, and his knowledge of basketball is unparalleled.

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Take the case of junior point guard Beth Marshall. Marshall played significant minutes under Combs as a true freshman, but didn't have a particularly good shot and was turnover prone.

Then she missed two years due to injury. After sitting out last year, Marshall is back and might be the key to the entire season. She does not look like someone who has been unable to play for two years. She is playing tenacious defense, forcing a lot of turnovers and she's been the undisputed leader on the offensive side of the floor.

Tuesday, she put it upon herself to pick up the scoring slack as star center Amy Jaeschke had a miserable day from the field. With DePaul making a late charge to take a six-point lead. Marshall coolly drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit in half. Then she stole the ball on the other end of the floor to continue the 'Cats furious rally in the final few minutes.

This rejuvinated women's team only has one senior, and that's 5th year senior shooting guard Kristin Cartwright. She too has had her struggles during her career, she missed the entire season with an injury two years ago.

But yesterday she not only provided some crucial early offense to finish with 13 points, she distributed the ball well too, dishing out five assists. Cartwright has always been an excellent free throw shooter, and she showed she could do it in the clutch as well, knocking down the two free throws that gave NU the lead for good.

In the front court, Jaeschke made up for her struggles on offense with some outstanding defense. She blocked a couple shots late that helped NU get the victory. Normally, NU cannot win if Jaeschke struggles offensively, Tuesday proved that this team has other players who can step up, and that's exactly what they did.

The attitude and depth of this year's women's team is better than it's been for many years. But McKeown, a perfectionist if there ever was one, says they still have a long way to go.

The 'Cats turned the ball over way too much Tuesday, so that will give the coach something to focus on as they go forward.

It's very likely NU could be 6-0 heading into the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Clemson. If they win that game, then we might be talking about a team on the cusp of the top 25.

I went to practice a few weeks ago and talked to Coach McKeown. He told me that his teams at George Washington practiced with a certain swagger. They knew they were good and practiced and played with the attitude that no one could beat them except themselves. He told me at the time that NU was nowhere near that level yet, and they still had a lot of bad habits they had to overcome.

Tuesday was a HUGE step in the right direction. It was the first time they'd beaten DePaul in over a decade, and the first time they'd knocked off a top 25 team since the 2005-2006 season. It's also their first 4-0 start since the 1995-1996 team started 9-0 on their way to the WNIT.

If you're interested in checking out this rapidly improving squad, their schedule can be found here

They're definitely a team to watch, so you might want to jump on the bandwagon now before March rolls around.

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