Northwestern’s one-game hiatus from the win column is over!
The Wildcats (18-3, 8-2 B1G) returned to Welsh-Ryan Arena with a 81-73 win against the Michigan Wolverines (13-7, 4-5 B1G) to continue their run of in-conference play on Thursday night. Northwestern entered the contest with a share of second place in the Big Ten, tied with Maryland after their loss to the Terps on Sunday.
The ‘Cats applied considerable defensive pressure early on: Michigan gave up eight turnovers in the first quarter alone. The offense struggled to knock down shots in the first quarter, but with so many turnovers, the Wildcats were able to slowly build up their lead. Abi Scheid (3-for-3 from behind the arc, 13 pts, 5 reb) was firing out of the gates, hitting a couple of shots from behind the arc in the first quarter. Veronica Burton, not quite as hot from the floor, found her teammates all game, tallying up seven assists.
The second quarter was an entirely different story. Northwestern had outscored Michigan 20-13 after the first, but sloppy shooting from the field (the ‘Cats were 12-for-33 in the first half) allowed Michigan to climb to within one by halftime. The Wolverines’ 12-4 run at the end of the second quarter had all but erased the lead the ‘Cats had held since the game’s first minute.
It was a very inauspicious start to the second half. In the ‘Cats’ first two possessions, Scheid missed a shot from under the hoop and Sydney Wood turned the ball over, allowing Michigan to reclaim the lead. One Northwestern three-point play later, Wood made up for her turnover, recording her fourth steal and running down the court to finish her fast break with a layup.
But the sloppy shooting from the first half remained, and it allowed Michigan to hang around. Other offensive miscues, like tipped passes and turnovers, gave the Wolverines chance after chance to build a lead.
Fortunately for Northwestern, Michigan could never seem to take advantage. With the exception, of course, of Naz Hillman (8-for-14, 27 pts, 5 ast, 8 reb).
Toward the end of the third quarter, the momentum began to swing back in favor of Northwestern after several possessions of lead changes. Jordan Hamilton hit a couple of free throws to move the lead to three points, and one possession later, she hit a three to put the ‘Cats up six.
Lindsey Pulliam had a big hand in turning the momentum as well—despite starting the game 2-for-6—as she began to heat up to finish the third quarter and brought the heat into the fourth.
“Her middle name is amnesia. Lindsey ‘Amnesia’ Pulliam, so she can have stretches where she’ll go 1-for-10 and she’ll make the next seven or eight,” Coach Joe McKeown said after the game.
Pulliam finished the game with 32 points.
“That game was for Kobe Bryant. That guy meant so much to me, and I took a lot from him in terms of my mentality and some of the things in my game,” Pulliam said. “That game was for him and Dr. Phillips just said in the locker room, ‘24 + 8 is 32.’”
While Northwestern’s shooting percentage climbed, the Wolverines matched it. They would not go away easily. Even when they didn’t get a good shot off, they would draw shooting fouls and go to the line. Michigan finished the game with 21 points off of free throws.
A 9-3 Wildcats run—which included a couple of Pulliam jumpers and a Burton three—in the middle of the fourth quarter pushed the ‘Cats to a 10-point lead, and Northwestern never looked back.
Northwestern goes away to Penn State (7-14, 1-9 B1G) on Sunday hoping to turn Thursday’s win into a streak against the conference’s bottom feeders.