DeKALB – Junior Courtney Woods vowed to become a better defender this year.
On Wednesday, she led a stifling Northern Illinois defense that didn’t allow Bradley to score its first point until the 3:04 mark of the first quarter. The Huskies went on to a 76-52 win at the Convocation Center.
Bradley’s 52 points mark a season-low for the Braves and a season-low by an NIU opponent. Woods, a 6-foot guard usually known for her offensive abilities, finished as NIU’s main pick-pocketer with a team-best three steals. Fellow guard Mikayla Voigt added 22 points, three rebounds and one steal.
“Defense has definitely been something we’ve focused on in film and practice,” said Woods, who added 14 points and nine rebounds. “[Defense] is not something that we’ve been super-great at, so it’s something we’re trying to focus on more this year.”
NIU coach Lisa Carlsen applauded Woods’ performance against the Braves.
“Courtney has a nose for the basketball, being able to [defend] passing lanes and stuff like that,” Carlsen said. “That’s just good basketball instincts. That’s where you see her when she’s at her best.”
Woods’ extra effort on defense this season stems from bad memories of a 10-minute span during the MAC championship against Toledo last season.
Holding a late fourth-quarter lead over Toledo, NIU seemed well on its way to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995. Instead, the Rockets exposed Woods and the Huskies on defense, cutting NIU’s postseason short with a 82-71 defeat.
Woods said she’ll remember those 10 minutes for the rest of her life.
“It was always a thing that I wasn’t good at defense, but in that fourth quarter [versus Toledo in the MAC championship], they exploited me defensively,” Woods said. “I wouldn’t say it cost us the game, but it definitely didn’t put us in position to win the game.”
For most of Woods’ life, the Brisbane, Australia, native always has played hard on offense, but relaxed on defense.
Not this season.
“Coming into this year, it wasn’t even going to be a thing where I would be like, ‘I’m not that good at defense, but that’s OK,’ ” she said. “It was something I knew I had to fix because I knew it hurt us in the championship.”
Despite being younger than most of her teammates, sophomore guard Myia Starks has been someone the Huskies have relied on for defensive help this season.
Whenever Woods decides to turn her head on defense, Starks usually is the one who points out her mistakes. Starks’ knack to be a top defender has become contagious.
“The first thing I’m thinking is I’ve got to get there and I’ve got to help [on defense],” Starks said. “Everyone knows I play defense and I play hard to get stops. So my teammates look at me to get everyone else going.”
Woods isn’t sure if she’s actually become a better defender, but she is certain about one thing: “I think I’ve definitely become more willing to be a better defender. I wasn’t super-blessed with quick feet, so I try hard and work hard. That’s gone better this year.”
As Woods continues to improve her defense, she hasn’t let up on her original strength either. Woods leads NIU in scoring with 19.3 points a game. She also ranks second among Huskies in rebounds with 7.3 a game.
“We have been at a standstill on defense lately,” Woods said. “In order to win games, we’ve got to stop teams from scoring. Going into this game, everyone was focused on that.”
The Huskies (5-2) hope to continue their defensive intensity when they host Loyola Chicago at 11 a.m. Wednesday.