If you’re not on the bandwagon yet, now would be a good time to join.
Northwestern women’s basketball is damn exciting. This 2019-2020 team is dominant at times and sloppy at others; above all, they know how to win. That will to win when the going gets tough was on full display in Sunday night’s 61-56 victory over Purdue (11-6, 2-3 B1G) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The win put Northwestern in a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten, and is almost certain to vault the Wildcats (14-2, 4-1 B1G) into the AP Top 25 tomorrow morning.
“I just think we’re fun to watch,” said head coach Joe McKeown postgame.
Purdue climbed ahead early and maintained a slim lead for much of the first half behind strong three-point shooting, making their first three shots from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Northwestern mustered only two three-point field goals in the first two quarters despite 11 attempts.
However, this is a talented squad that can beat you in many ways. Northwestern had strong defensive pressure throughout the first half, generating 10 turnovers (including multiple shot-clock violations). As Purdue’s shooting cooled down, Northwestern heated up, giving them a 31-24 advantage at the half. Abbie Wolf led the way on both ends of the floor, scoring 11 points in the half and notching six rebounds (three offensive).
“[Wolf] is a special kid. She loves Northwestern...She’s had a presence, she’s had a great attitude and work ethic in practice. Really proud of her,” said McKeown.
The second half was a tale of two quarters. In the third, Northwestern appeared to be pulling away behind a strong defensive presence. The Wildcats started the half on a 14-3 run in which Wolf scored 11 points and the defense forced three turnovers. The Boilermakers clawed back to cut the deficit to 12 by the end of the quarter. Overall, Northwestern forced 18 turnovers, though they only managed to score 19 points off of them.
“Our key emphasis was on pressure,” said Jordan Hamilton (7 points, 2 steals). “We figured if we were able to rattle them a little bit, throw the first punch and keep on punching, then that would spark our motivation...Once we saw that they were starting to fold from that pressure, keep on applying and applying it.”
In the fourth quarter, Northwestern did not score a field goal until there was 1:20 left in the game. The drought, which lasted 13 minutes total and included an 0-18 stretch from the field, nearly cost them the game. Lindsey Pulliam (10 pts, 3-19 shooting) suffered one of the worst games of her career, while Purdue’s Dominique Oden (14 pts, 6 reb) found her stride. After Pulliam went 1-2 from the charity stripe with eight seconds remaining, Purdue found themselves with a three-point deficit and the ball.
“We’ve got to do a better job finishing games, and that will be the message all week in practice,” said McKeown.
Luckily, the Wildcats did finish the game, even if they made the sizable crowd in Welsh-Ryan sweat until the final seconds. Purdue’s Jenelle Grant (16 pts, 4 reb) missed a contested three, and Veronica Burton (7 pts, 6 reb, 4 stl) secured the rebound and nailed her free throws to ice the game.
Soon-to-be-ranked Northwestern will take on the No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers (14-3, 4-1 B1G) on Thursday night at Assembly Hall, with the opportunity to assert their dominance in this hectic Big Ten race. NBN Sports recommends tuning in.