It had all the makings of a great game:
An unbeaten team hosting a ranked opponent. An in-state rivalry crossing conference boundaries. And two long-time head coaches both looking for their latest victory.
But while the matchup lived up to the hype, Northwestern women’s basketball (5-1) came out on the losing end, falling 70-68 to No. 16 DePaul (6-1) in Evanston on Sunday. The game was also Northwestern’s annual Autism Awareness Game, of special importance to head coach and advocate Joe McKeown, whose family has been impacted by autism.
Abbie Wolf (18 pts, 5 reb), Lindsey Pulliam (16 pts, 4 reb) and Byrdy Galernik (16 pts) led the ’Cats in keeping up with a high-powered Blue Demon attack, though the team’s overall effort came up just short. Northwestern’s performance, however, when mixed with some strong past wins, should further bolster their national recognition and serve as a sign of positive things to come.
“I thought a lot of the game was played at a pretty high level,” said McKeown, “and that’s encouraging.”
The Wildcats attacked the paint early through Wolf, using the 6’4” senior as a cheat code. Her height advantage and ability to finish at the rim made her an asset to the ’Cats and a threat to the Blue Demons, as she scored the Wildcats’ first five baskets (all layups).
After Wolf’s hot streak, Pulliam and Galernik took over most of the team’s scoring through the rest of the game, shooting a combined 13-for-24 as Northwestern began to find success through mid-range jumpers to pair with presence in the paint.
DePaul meanwhile utilized much more of the court early on, and threatened the Wildcats with a barrage of three-pointers. After the first two quarters, the Blue Demons went 7-for-16 on shots beyond the arc, while the Wildcats strayed from the long ball in a 1-for-3 showing. Both teams each made two more for the rest of the game, though, on seven and six attempts respectively.
The visitors led by as much as seven points in the first quarter and eight in the third, while never trailing by four. Even when their lead faltered due to some hiccups — including a scoreless run in the first and a turnover mess in the third — DePaul never was far from turning their fortunes around.
Chante Stonewall (25 pts, 4 reb, 5 TO) and Sonya Morris (22 pts, 5 reb, 6 TO) paced the Blue Demons, showcasing impressive shooting even with their turnovers. DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, who picked up his 700th collegiate win (all with the Blue Demons), mentioned how crucial not having Kelly Campbell (7 reb, 11 ast) around due to foul trouble was to the team’s turnover woes in the third quarter.
“We have become dependent on her,” he said. “When she came off the floor, things went south fast. Now that we’ve got the victory behind us, it’s great that it happened. But had we not pulled off the victory, you would point to that place and time in the game as to when the game got away from us.”
Though the Wildcats led by three points with under two minutes to play, the game ultimately got away from them after their response to a Morris layup to bring the margin down to one. Veronica Burton (4 reb, 6 ast, 4 stl), who has been a key player defensively this season, missed a three with the shot clock expiring on a late Northwestern possession.
Burton had made a three-pointer earlier in the game, but her shooting beyond the arc has mostly been poor this season. The crucial shot didn’t go to another player, and the ball fell into the Blue Demons’ possession. Northwestern’s Sydney Wood (4 pts, 3 ast) then forced a miracle turnover right after the miss to set up two free throws for Burton (who has been solid at the line), but the sophomore came up empty-handed on both.
“I understand how things get magnified in the last minute,” said McKeown about the free throw misses. “I can tell you this: if you put the clock back, and say, ‘Coach, pick a player,’ I’d pick Burton.”
After Morris hit a jumper on the other end of the court to give DePaul a one-point lead, the Wildcats had a chance to regain control and send their ranked opponent packing in dramatic style. But Wolf ended up turning the ball when trying to pass to Pulliam, and shifted momentum back to the Blue Demons with about a dozen seconds remaining.
DePaul’s Dee Bekelja (11 pts) surprisingly missed two throws that would’ve extended the lead, but an out-of-bounds ball after the second shot rebounded turned possession back to the Blue Demons.
In order to get a chance to score again, the Wildcats had to return DePaul to the foul line, and their low number of fouls in the quarter meant they had to repeatedly raise it before a simple foul automatically gave free throw attempts.
In order to prevent this (confusing) tactic from working, the Blue Demons had to successfully inbound the ball repeatedly and run out as much time as possible to prevent Northwestern from getting another chance at scoring.
They performed this well, leaving just two seconds to go when Stonewall was sent to the foul line. She made the first and missed the second, but there wasn’t enough time for the Wildcats to launch the ball far to the basket and try to win the game in ridiculous fashion.
“I think DePaul really took advantage of every opportunity they had,” said Galernik. “I guess just learning from the situation and learning how to execute, and make open shots down the stretch in crucial times is really important for us.”
The Wildcats will next host Boston College on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge.
Game stats and details collected from StatBroadcast