Like all students dealing with midterms, the Northwestern women’s team faced a big test in Monday night’s game against Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Coming off a week without playing and missing head coach Joe McKeown to illness, it seemed like the perfect “trap game” to knock the team down a peg from their current AP ranking of 19. Like true Northwestern students, however, the ’Cats not only rose to face the test, but passed with flying colors.
The ’Cats (20-3, 10-2 B1G) beat the Spartans (11-12, 4-8 B1G) 85-55 on Monday night, showing resilience and grit in a rough-and-tumble game. Northwestern was led by sophomore Veronica Burton, who had a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Lindsey Pulliam also turned in a spectacular performance, scoring 31 points in just 31 minutes.
“I just love the effort of these girls and this team. It's a special group to coach, and I'm really proud of the poise they had tonight,” said assistant coach Kate Popovec, who served as interim head coach in McKeown’s absence. “I think one of the emphases of our season has been resiliency and overcoming adversity, and when you hear your head coach might not be there, that's not always the easiest situation, but our girls never flinched.”
The Spartans were led in their effort by sophomore Nia Clouden, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and sophomore Kayla Belles, who also had 12 points.
After falling behind by five early, the ’Cats got hot on several streaks to lurch ahead, including a 21-3 run in the first quarter and a 23-point second quarter. Pulliam paced the team with 18 first-half points, including 11 straight for the ’Cats in the second quarter, en route to falling just shy of her season and career highs of 32 and 33 points, respectively. Pulliam, however, shied away from the feat, placing the merit instead on her teammates.
“I think we're all just clicking,” said Pulliam, “and I think it also comes to just how close we are off the court, and we bring that on to the court and we know what everybody's going to bring day in, day out.”
Pulliam’s sentiment was highlighted in several performances alongside Burton’s double-double: senior Abbie Wolf scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and senior Abi Scheid also had eight points. Coincidentally, however, Popovec jokingly told Pulliam before the game that if she could score 30 points, “it would make [her] job a lot easier.”
“She obviously makes life a lot easier because she can go get you a bucket, but she's also every scout’s biggest focus,” Popovec said. “So she opens up the floor for a lot of other players to execute what they do well."
"If Lindsey had two points and the rest of her teammates had 30, and we won the game," she added, "Pulliam would be just as happy. She wants to win. She hates to lose. And that's what makes her a special kid.”
Pulliam would also swish her 1500th point in the victory, becoming the third-fastest player in Northwestern history to achieve the feat.
Fresh off the bye week and with a solid team win under their belt, the ’Cats will now face one of their toughest tests yet: a Thursday night battle with Michigan in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines have an 11-2 record. But with their mojo uninterrupted and the team closer than ever, it’s hard to think they’re not up to the challenge.