Oct. 25, 1997
Women's Basketball Hopes to Make Third Straight Postseason Appearance
Preseason All-American candidate Kristina Divjak is the lone returning starter in the Wildcats' frontcourt. Last
season, she earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. |
Coming off a season in which the Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament, led the country in three-point shooting and set new attendance records, 14th-year head coach Don Perrelli hopes to make a run at a Big Ten title as well as earn NU's third-straight postseason appearance.
"Making the NCAA Tournament was a big lift for our program," said Perrelli. "When you live life on the bubble, the way we have the past couple of years, it's important that you break into the tournament. We felt we had a good team last year, and we were rewarded at the end."
This season, Perrelli welcomes quite possibly the best recruiting class in school history. Guard Dana Leonard was named one of the top 25 players in the country by USA Today while guard Clarissa Flores and center Becky Fisher each earned honorable mention All-America accolades as preps.
"I like this freshman class a lot. They all excelled tremendously in high school. The key will be how fast they adapt to the college game," said Perrelli.
Last year's Wildcats lit up the scoreboard from three-point range, leading the NCAA in three pointers made while finishing second in the NCAA in three point percentage. Perimeter shooting should continue to be the Wildcats' strength again in 1997-98. Last season, NU hit at least five threes in 23 of 28 contests.
"With Megan or Kristina, you're talking about a player who can hit 7-to-10 three pointers on any given day," said Perrelli. "It has nothing to do with the coaches. They're just great perimeter shooters."
Anne Giblin started five games last season, subbing for the injured Katrina Hannaford, and is a scrappy player, the type
you would expect to find at the bottom of a pile diving for a loose ball. (File photo)
Outside of perimeter shooting, the Wildcats' biggest asset could be their depth, a luxury NU has not had in the past couple of seasons. This year's squad has 15 players, the most since the 1986-87 team also had 15 players.
"We could be deeper this season than we've ever been," Perrelli said. "Over the course of the season, that could prove to be our strength."
The season opens Nov. 14 with the Preseason NIT in Welsh-Ryan Arena against Southern Illinois. The nonconference schedule includes NCAA Tournament teams DePaul, Texas and Western Kentucky. The Wildcats also travel to Southwest Missouri State, which has made the NCAA Tournament six of the last seven seasons.
"We're going to be tested right out of the blocks, playing in the Preseason NIT as well as at Western Kentucky and Southwest Missouri State in the first two weeks of the season," said Perrelli. "We feel this team certainly has the talent to contend for the Big Ten title and go back to the NCAA Tournament."
Preseason All-American candidate Kristina Divjak is the lone returning starter in the Wildcats' frontcourt. Last season, she earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. A small forward, Divjak was often forced to play the opponent's power forward last year causing some matchup problems, and Perrelli hopes to move Divjak back to her natural position this season with the expected emergence of Anne Giblin and Leah Berki into the rotation.
Divjak is the top returnee in the Big Ten Conference in four offensive categories: scoring, free throw percentage, three pointers made per game and three-point percentage. She also ranks among the top 25 returnees in the nation in those categories.
"Kristina is a proven three-point shooter," said Perrelli. "This season, we hope to add another dimension to her game by improving her play off the dribble to create more scoring opportunities."
Giblin started five games last season, subbing for the injured Katrina Hannaford, and is a scrappy player, the type you would expect to find at the bottom of a pile diving for a loose ball. Berki showed flashes of her potential last season and can play either power forward or center.
Third-team All-Big Ten guard and team co-captain Megan Chawansky averaged 15.9
points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game last year. (File photo)
"Anne was a pleasant surprise for us last year," said Perrelli. "She is our best fundamental player and perhaps our best conditioned player as well. Anne could step into that 'four' slot this year."
Among the returnees who will serve as primary backup to Divjak is sophomore Leslie Schock. Schock is a pure shooter who can light it up from the outside. She scored four points in her five minutes of play in the NCAA tournament game at George Washington and shot 57.1 percent (12-of-21) from the field on the season. Senior Candace Wrenn and freshmen Chala Holland and Tami Sears will also battle for playing time at forward.
"Leslie is certainly a player we expect good things from this season," said Perrelli. "She is an excellent shooter and became much more comfortable and confident near the end of last season."
The Wildcats return starting point guard and team co-captain Amber DeWall. NU will rely heavily upon DeWall's experience, having started 63 games in her Wildcat career. The senior finished second in the Big Ten and 11th in the NCAA last year in assists with 6.6 per game. More importantly, DeWall tallied 185 assists while committing just 85 turnovers, a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, while averaging 36 minutes per game.
tallied 185 assists while committing just 85 turnovers, a 2.2-to-1
assist-to-turnover ratio, while averaging 36 minutes per game. (File photo)
"Amber's the player who we depend upon to run both our offense and defense," said Perrelli. "She has shown she can play one-on-one defense against anyone at her position."
Third-team All-Big Ten guard and team co-captain Megan Chawansky has split time the past two seasons between the point and shooting guard positions, a trend which will probably continue this season. Chawansky is a terrific one-on-one player who finds her way to the basket. She averaged 15.9 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game last year. Chawansky and DeWall combined last season for 289 assists and 83 steals.
"Megan's our all-everything player," said Perrelli. "She can shoot with both hands, penetrate, play inside and outside and is great off the boards."
Northwestern will have plenty of experienced depth in the backcourt with seniors Shannon McGarrigle and Lisa Byington serving as backups at point guard. Freshmen Dana Leonard and Clarissa Flores enter Northwestern with impressive shooting credentials and could give the Wildcats many different looks in Perrelli's flex offense.
The center position is the only true question mark for the Wildcats entering the season. With the graduation of four-year starter Katrina Hannaford, the middle is truly up for grabs.
Fifth-year senior Mary Connolly and sophomore Leah Berki are the two returnees fighting it out at center. Connolly, although experienced, has been plagued by injuries during her career while Berki averaged just six minutes per game during her freshman campaign. Freshman Becky Fisher, the tallest player on next year's team at 6-4, has a chance to step in and start as a freshman if she impresses the NU coaching staff during fall drills.
"This is definitely a position up for grabs as we head into the fall," said Perrelli. "Somebody is going to have to step up at center or else we'll have to play the position by committee."
Women's Basketball Notes
- NCAA Champions: Northwestern was the 1997 NCAA Three-Point Champions, averaging 7.3 three pointers made per game. In fact, NU held the NCAA lead in that category every week beginning January 3. The Wildcats hit at least six threes in 22 of their 28 games last year, including a Big Ten record 13 against Illinois-Chicago and at Minnesota.
- Divjak Leads the Big Ten: It may surprise some people to know that Wildcat junior forward Kristina Divjak is the top returning player in the Big Ten in four offensive categories, and ranks among the top 25 returnees in the NCAA in each of those. Here's where Divjak ranks among returnees in the Big Ten as well as the NCAA:
Category Big Ten NCAA
3-point pct. (.442) 1 3
3-pointers/game (2.9) 1 8
Free throw pct. (.830) 1 19
Scoring (18.9 ppg) 1 25
- A Big Ten Record: Northwestern's 202 three pointers last season is a Big Ten Conference record, breaking the old mark of 195 set by Purdue in the 1995-96 season. In conference play, the Wildcats tied Indiana's mark of 105. However, the Hoosiers set their record during the 1991-92 season, when the Big Ten schedule was 18 games instead of the current 16 games.
- Back-to-Back Postseason Appearances: Northwestern has made back-to-back appearances in postseason play three times in school history. The Wildcats went to the NWIT in 1996 and the NCAA tournament last year. The only time NU saw postseason action more than three-straight years was 1979-82, when the Wildcats made three AIAW appearances followed by the 1982 NCAAs.
- Attendance in Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Rise: For the third-consecutive season, attendance at Wildcat home games was an all-time high. Last year, 17,672 fans attended NU games in Evanston, an average of 1,473 per game. The single-game record of 3,416 was set in the 1995-96 season against Iowa. Here's how the Wildcats have fared at the turnstiles in the 1990s:
Year Attend. Avg.
1991-92 11,073 791
1992-93 15,194 1,169
1993-94 14,435 1,031
1994-95 15,269 1,175
1995-96 17,637 1,260
1996-97 17,672 1,473
- Six Wins to Number 400: The Wildcats enter the 1997-98 season with an all-time record of 394-216, a .646 winning percentage over 22 seasons of play. Northwestern currently has the fifth-most all-time wins of any Big Ten school. Ohio State leads with 543 wins in 32 seasons; Penn State is second with 523 wins in 33 seasons; Indiana has 412 wins in 26 seasons; Iowa has 399 wins in 23 seasons; NU has 394 wins in 22 seasons.
- But If You Go By Wins Per Year: The Wildcats have the highest all-time wins-per-season average of any school in the Big Ten. The 'Cats have averaged 17.9 victories per year since the program's inception. Iowa's second at 17.3, followed by Ohio State (16.9), Purdue (15.9), and Penn State (15.8).
- Smart Cats: The 10 returnees on this year's squad have a cumulative grade point average of 3.06. Last spring quarter, every member of the team achieved at least a 3.0 GPA. Four returnees (Byington, DeWall, Divjak, Giblin) were named Academic All-Big Ten last year.
- Strength in Numbers: This year's Wildcat squad has 15 players, the most since the 1986-87 team also had 15 players. That team went 20-10 overall and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That team also included a freshman named Robin Garrett, currently one of the Wildcats' assistant coaches.
- Megan in Europe: Junior guard played on the Big Ten All-Star Tour in Austria this summer. Chawansky finished second on the team in scoring (11.0 ppg), third in assists (15) and fourth in steals (eight), despite starting just one of the six contests.
- "Scoop" Byington: Northwestern senior guard Lisa Byington often does men's hoops play-by-play or color commentary on WNUR (the Northwestern student radio station) broadcasts. Last summer, she interned with WFLD-TV (Fox affiliate) in Chicago.
- Diversity in Studies: Of the nine returnees who have declared a major, eight are enrolled in different programs at Northwestern. Alphabetically, with major, Leah Berki (speech pathology); Lisa Byington (journalism); Megan Chawansky and Anne Giblin (psychology); Mary Connolly (social policy); Amber DeWall (communication studies); Kristina Divjak (communicative disorders and sciences); Shannon McGarrigle (psychological services); and Candace Wrenn (economics).
- Welsh-Ryan Arena's Almost 200 Games Old: Opened in 1983 as part of a $6.75 million renovation of McGaw Hall, Welsh-Ryan Arena is entering its 15th season as the home of Wildcats women's basketball. Over the last 14 seasons, the Wildcats have a 141-55 (.719) record at home.