Add resilient to the list of characteristics that are starting to define 2019 Northwestern women’s basketball. After trailing for the vast majority of the first three quarters against last-place Illinois (9-11, 1-9 B1G), Northwestern (13-7, 6-3 B1G) outscored the Illini 21-5 in the fourth to win the game, 64-56. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah recorded her fourth straight double-double and twelfth of the season, and Bryana Hopkins picked one up as well.
In that dominant fourth quarter, the Wildcats overcame a eight-point deficit and built a seven-point lead before the Illini even got on the board. Lindsey Pulliam (14 points, 6 rebounds) scored five points in the 15-0 run, coming up clutch in what was an uncharacteristically poor shooting night for her (5-21 FG). Northwestern was particularly effective in turning defense into offense, scoring seven fast break points to Illinois’ zero in the quarter.
“We came into the fourth quarter with more confidence,” said head coach Joe McKeown. “Our defense was really locked in. We were focused and dialed in.”
In the game’s final two minutes, Sydney Wood (9 rebounds, 2 steals) missed two free throws and Hopkins turned the ball over to keep things interesting, but Wood followed the misses with a defensive rebound and fastbreak layup to seal the deal.
Illinois flat-out outplayed Northwestern in the game’s first half. While the ‘Cats went 0-6 from beyond the arc and shot 33 percent from the field, Illinois - led by Arieal Scott and Courtney Joens - nailed four three-pointers and shot 46 percent. Illinois also got more contributions from their backups, with 27 bench points to Northwestern’s 12.
In the third quarter, the Wildcats started to get things going. They went on a 7-0 run after the half to pull within two points. The teams then went back-and-forth for a few minutes at the State Farm Center before Illinois pulled off a 10-0 run of their own. It was beginning to look like an ugly loss for Northwestern. However, Veronica Burton gave the ‘Cats a good omen: she hit a half-court buzzer-beater to give Northwestern momentum going into the fourth.
Northwestern retained sole possession of fifth place in the Big Ten, but after Purdue’s loss to Iowa, the Wildcats moved into a tie for fourth. Given the way they have been playing, they appear entrenched in the top tier of the conference, something that would have sounded ridiculous just a couple weeks ago. The ‘Cats next take on Minnesota (13-6, 2-6 B1G) at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday night.