Western coach Breezy Bishop calls this year's Northwestern Wildcats "the best Northwestern team I've seen in a long time."
Yesterday, however, it wasn't quite good enough.
Marion Moore and Crystal Fallin each scored 15 points, and Ashley Davis added 13 -- all in the second half -- to lead No. 18 Western to a 71-50 win over host Northwestern.
Trailing, 10-8, the Doves (10-4) went on a 17-4 run over the next 8:03 to build a 25-14 lead near the end of the first half.
Then, leading by nine early in the fourth quarter, they finished the game with a flourish, outscoring the Wildcats, 23-11, in the final 7:11 to win going away.
Though it took some time for the Doves to adjust to their opponents' unorthodox perimeter-oriented style, their advantages in quickness and overall skill eventually won out.
"They're a good outside shooting team, and we're not used to playing a team like that," said Davis. "But I think we're a lot stronger on the inside."
Led by Katrina Hurt (17 points) and Chamanaka Hill (16), Northwestern stayed close by forcing turnovers, shooting long-range jumpers and crashing the boards for easy putbacks.
Hill hit three three-pointers in the second half, and Monique Lee added another, to keep the Wildcats (7-2) within striking distance.
But the crushing blow for the hosts came with 2:32 left in the third quarter.
Trailing by eight, Northwestern lost leading scorer Keisha Todd to a sprained ankle. Todd finished with six points, and the Wildcats never threatened again.
"That hurt us a lot," said Northwestern coach Lillian Brown, who made the decision to keep Todd, a 5-foot-7 guard, on the bench the rest of the game.
"I just couldn't chance putting her back out there, especially with regionals coming up."
In last year's playoffs, the Wildcats advanced to the Class 2A East Region final before losing to Parkside of Wicomico County. That team, featuring six freshmen and no seniors, was considered by many to be the school's best in years.
This year's, however, could be even better.
Despite the loss, Brown said she was pleased with her team's performance -- its best against Western in recent history.
Said Brown: "Western has been a powerhouse for a long time, so for us to hang in there for so long was definitely a positive for us."
Bishop had similar feelings about her young team's performance.
After beginning the season 2-3, Western has won eight of its last nine games.
"I think it was very important that we lose early in the season," said Bishop.
"It took the monkey off our backs and established our identity. We've played a very tough schedule and consequently we've improved each game."