Sophomore forward Mercy Ademusayo goes for a shot in a 2021 game against Loyola-Chicago. Ademusayo was one of several young players who saw significant playing time last week, as the Wildcats try to adjust to a new playing style. Photos by Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

So things are a little different without Veronica Burton.

The Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 0-0 B1G) are still adjusting to life without their former star. Fortunately for them, there is still time to make those adjustments. The Wildcats fell 58-92 on November 16 to the #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0, 0-0 ACC) in non-conference play that, after an additional huge loss to #20 Oregon (3-0, 0-0 Pac 12), has honestly felt like they’ve been playing on All-Madden mode.

“I thought we were ready to play. It’s a disappointing situation that happened for everyone involved,” said Wildcat Coach Joe McKeown of the performance.

Northwestern was looking for the upset in Evanston, but they left feeling upset as Notre Dame struck early and often. The Irish were led by graduate center Lauren Ebo, who was a monster in the paint; she scored 11 points in a three-and-a-half-minute span during the first quarter, and finished with 19 total. Sophomore guard Sonia Citron shot an astounding 80% from the field for the Irish, finishing with 24 points. Not one to be left out, Notre Dame sophomore guard Olivia Miles ended her night with 21 points before receiving her second technical foul and an ejection.

Things became heated in the second quarter when junior forward Paige Mott got tangled up with a Notre Dame player. A scuffle ensued before the officials dolled out off-setting fouls to the teams and a brutal blow to the Wildcats: the ejections of graduate forward Courtney Shaw, sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh, and junior guard Jasmine McWilliams for coming off the bench.

Without their starting bigs in Shaw and Walsh – and to be honest, even with them – Northwestern was outrebounded, outmatched, and outplayed. To their credit, the Wildcats did not quit on the game, and we got to see a bit of depth in their lineup.

Sophomore guard Melannie Daley had a team-leading eight points and was flashy on defense, recording a deflection and a steal in the fourth quarter. Two key forwards, junior Paige Mott and sophomore Mercy Ademusayo, worked the paint on offense and defense, combining for five of Northwestern’s six blocks. Overall, the ’Cats had 32 bench points, which was over half of their 58 total points.

If the Notre Dame loss was a tale of the bench play, the Wildcats’ 84-69 win against Southern Illinois (0-3, 0-0 Missouri Valley) on November 19 was a tale of the starters. Graduate students Courtney Shaw and guard Sydney Wood both reached double digits and combined for five steals, but it was Caleigh Walsh who showed out, with a game-leading 24 points. Shaw would also lead all teams with 12 rebounds, something the Wildcats have struggled with all season.

Between Daley and Walsh, the sophomore class in particular has been at the forefront of the past few games. Guard Jillian Brown has also gotten in on the action with a combined 14 points in that span. Youth is something Northwestern has plenty of, and this team will only learn and grow as the games roll by.

“Y’know, we’re young. We’re a much different team than we were the last five years, but I think we can be really good,” McKeown noted.

The ’Cats have a chance to stay on track as they continue their home stand against Niagara (1-2, 0-0 MAA) on November 22. If they continue to allow their young squad to blossom under the tutelage of their veterans, the Wildcats could have a bright future both immediately and in the long run.

This team runs deep.