When the Northwestern women’s basketball team hosted Rutgers at Welsh-Ryan arena Wednesday night, it was supposed to be a defensive struggle throughout, with the Scarlet Knights and the ’Cats owning the two best scoring defenses in the Big Ten. No one told the team this, however, as they raced through to beat Rutgers (18-8, 8-7 B1G) 82-65.
The Wildcats (23-3, 13-2 B1G), facing a team who had a previous field goal defense percentage of .339, made it rain from all corners, shooting 58.8% from the field and a perfectly balanced 50% from downtown. The ’Cats were led in their victory by the self-proclaimed “best backcourt in the Big Ten,” sophomore Veronica Burton and junior Lindsey Pulliam, who had 23 and 27 points, respectively.
“When we can shoot the ball like that, especially in the first two quarters and third quarter, we’re hard to guard,” head coach Joe McKeown said postgame. “Rutgers is a great defensive team … I thought tonight we were able to get the shots we wanted in transition early, and we just got a lead that we kept expanding on instead of sitting.”
In addition to Burton and Pulliam, Northwestern saw key contributions from seniors Abbie Wolf and Abi Scheid. Wolf scored 14 points and nabbed eight rebounds, while Scheid went 3-for-8 from downtown for nine points. The main story, however, was Burton, who continued showing her dominant play across the court, dishing nine assists and grabbing five steals. Burton also only missed one shot in the game.
“It’s awesome. If [Burton’s] not on the floor, you know she’s not on the floor,” Pulliam said after the game. “You know she's gonna make a play and she's always going to be wherever you need her to be … It's awesome playing with her and [I’m] blessed to be able to play with her and be her teammate … and I know she’s gonna pass me the ball, so that’s why I like her too.”
Rutgers was led in their effort by junior Arella Guirantes, who scored 19 points and made all 11 of her free throws, and senior Jordan Wallace, who swished 16 points, grabbed three rebounds and swiped two steals.
After an even paced first quarter that saw the Wildcats only pull ahead by two, the team exploded with a 21 point second to grab a 37-22 halftime lead, with Pulliam scoring fifteen. After a third quarter that saw the team go up 64-37, the ’Cats signed off on the night by playing their bench, giving their starters a warm reception as they walked to the bench together.
“Even though they're different years, you know, sophomore, junior, senior, they've played a lot of basketball together now and you can tell,” McKeown said. “We talk all the time about sharing the ball … They don’t care who gets the credit. When you have that, you’ve got a special group. Our chemistry evolves out of the fact that they’re really unselfish.”
The ’Cats now sit a half-game out of the Big Ten lead, with three games left to play. They’ll play at Wisconsin on Saturday and at Ohio State on Tuesday, but the main event for the team may be next Saturday, when they’ll play Illinois at home for their final game at Welsh-Ryan arena. If there was anytime to hop on the 201 and ride to Welsh-Ryan, it’s now.