April 14, 2013

Strong Second-Half Defense Gets Northwestern Past Stanford

from press release

EVANSTON, Ill. — After carrying a one-goal lead into halftime, fourth-ranked Northwestern went back to its defensive roots in the second half and held No. 15 Stanford to one goal on eight shots in the final 30 minutes to record a 12-8 victory Sunday at Lakeside Field. The 'Cats, winners of 11 straight, improved to 13-1 overall and 7-0 at home on the year.

Northwestern's senior midfield tandem of Taylor Thornton and Gabriella Flibotte were too much for the Cardinal to handle, with the duo combining for six ground balls, five draw controls and five caused turnovers. Thornton also was Northwestern's high point-scorer on the day with two goals and one assist.

NU vs. Stanford Game Highlights

Sophomore Bridget Bianco remained stellar in the cage for the Wildcats, tying her career high with nine saves and limiting Stanford to 2-of-6 shooting on free position attempts for the game. Bianco also watched as her teammates on defense kept Stanford's top two scorers, Rachel Ozer (46 points) and Kyle Fraser (24 points) to a combined zero points on two shots on the afternoon. Thornton, Erin Fitzgerald, Beatrice Conley and Ali Cassera all found the back of the net twice for the Wildcats.

"I think the defense really came out in the second half and competed, we changed it up a little bit with what we were doing," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "We did a good job locking down and stopping their matchups and just playing as a team."

The Cardinal's bid for an upset got off to a promising start as they notched three of the game's first four goals, including their first just 34 seconds into the game off a free position attempt. After Fitzgerald had put NU on the board with 45th goal of the season, freshman Kaleigh Craig delivered off the arc as well to cut Stanford's lead to 3-2 at the 21:07 mark.

Northwestern began to dominate the lion's share of possession and pulled level at three off an Amanda Macaluso free position shot with 17:57 to go in the first, the 21st on the year for the senior from Smithtown, N.Y. Within three minutes of that goal, the Wildcats put up two more tallies courtesy of Thornton and Cassera, and another score by Conley at the 13:36 mark capped off a run of five straight NU goals to set the score at 6-3.

Stanford won the ensuing draw control and scored in transition only 10 seconds after Conley's tally, however, the first of two straight for the Cardinal. Junior Kelly Rich and Cassera then converted a pair of free position attempts to restore an 8-5 edge with 5:07 left before intermission.

Stanford's Julia Burns managed to turn a few heads late in the first half, first receiving a pass and going to a behind-the-back bounce shot to beat Bianco, and just 34 seconds later managing to wrap the crease and score with a sidearm shot to pull the Cardinal within one, 8-7, at the break.

Although the Cardinal won the opening draw of the second half, Flibotte immediate caused a turnover in the midfield to return possession to NU, and Thornton capitalized with an 8-meter goal with 1:05 gone by in the period. Two minutes later, Conley took a feed from Rich and beat Stanford GK Lyndsey Munoz -- despite spinning and falling away in the process -- to make it 10-7 Wildcats and secure her second straight two-goal outing.

NU added to its lead at the 15:29 mark despite operating shorthanded due to a yellow card. A Flibotte caused turnover behind Northwestern's cage resulted only 30 seconds later in a Fitzgerald free position goal, giving NU its largest lead of the game at 11-7. Junior Alyssa Leonard increased Northwestern's lead to five when she buried a feed from Thornton on the doorstep for her 23rd goal of the year, and Bianco preserved the advantage with multiple saves from point blank range around the crease in the game's final six minutes.

Flibotte's trio of caused turnovers give her 75 for her career and 33 this season, tied with Christy Finch (2006) for the fourth-best single-season total in school history. Thornton also climbed NU's career caused turnover rankings with her pair on Sunday, breaking a tie with Sarah Albrecht (2002-06) to gain sole possession of third all-time with 89.

Stanford, which began the week ranked No. 1 nationally in draw controls per game (15.8), played the Wildcats even in the circle Sunday with both teams winning 11 for the afternoon. The Cardinal also benefited from a 14-save performance in the cage by Munoz.

Northwestern will put its 11-game winning streak on the line next Saturday (April 20) when it pays a visit to No. 3 Florida, with both teams looking to secure the top seed in the upcoming American Lacrosse Conference Tournament. Opening draw in Gainesville is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT Saturday.


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