One of the toughest side effects of the country’s cancellation of sports last spring was never getting the chance to watch Northwestern’s most talented team finish their 2019-2020 season. The Northwestern women’s basketball program was having a record-breaking year, winning their first Big Ten title since 1990, until the pandemic ended their historical momentum.
Not many were expecting the ‘Cats to achieve such impressive results last season. Finishing 2018-19 as WNIT finalists, the Wildcats were unranked coming into the 2019-20 season. With some underappreciated stars in their roster, Northwestern worked their way up national rankings, securing a spot as a Top 25 team halfway through the season. Northwestern’s standings continued to climb, as the ‘Cats dominated the Big Ten conference, finishing their regular season 26-4 and 11th in the nation.
Northwestern secured the conference title while six players received All-Big Ten honors. This included Joe McKeown’s Coach of the Year award, junior guard Veronica Burton’s selection as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and senior guard Lindsey Pulliam unanimous nomination for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
The Wildcats suffered an unexpected loss to Michigan in the Big Ten championships, but were still predicted to perform in their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. It would have been Coach McKeown’s second appearance in the tournament since becoming head coach of the program in 2008.
While Northwestern fans may not have gotten the closure they were hoping for, a roster full of experienced returners and a strong incoming class provides hope for the ‘Cats as the season starts up again this week.
Northwestern will return to the court this Thursday against Eastern Illinois after cancelling their first game due to COVID-19 protocols. Unlike Northwestern’s football schedule, the women’s basketball program is allowed to play up to five non-conference games throughout their season. The ‘Cats opted to play two, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, before facing a shortened schedule with 20 conference games.
With such a successful season under their belts, the Wildcats look to remain dominant as they currently sit 17th in the country, right behind top Big Ten rivals Maryland (14) and Indiana (15). Let’s break down who to watch out for this season.
Fans and players will be watching as senior Lindsay Pulliam returns for her final season. She was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year as the conference anticipates her to show her usual offensive dominance for the Wildcats this season. She is the team’s main shooter, averaging 18.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, making her third in the conference for scoring. Pulliam was an All-American honorable mention and received First Team All-Big Ten honors last season, generating local and national attention. She is sure to make an impact this season and has been projected in various mock drafts as a first or second round pick in the 2021 WNBA draft.
Junior guard Veronica Burton stole the show last season, winning Defensive player of the Year for the Big Ten and leading the conference with an average of 3.3 steals per game. She has been a dominant force on Northwestern’s defense for two years, stealing 100 balls last season, getting 17 blocks, and was ranked ninth in the country for steals. She can be lethal on offense as well, ranking second on the team for her scoring and averaging 11.6 points per game. Her high amount of play time as an underclassman gives her the experience to rise as a leader this season.
Junior Sydney Wood earned All-Big Ten honorable mention last season, ranking third in the conference for her assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3). She was also tied for seventh in the Big Ten after notching 55 steals last season. She continues to contribute to the Wildcats zone defense and averaged 4.5 rebounds and passed 97 assists last year. As former starters Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf leave a hole in the lineup, Wood has the potential to hold a larger offensive role for the ‘Cats this year as well.
Redshirt junior Lauryn Satterwhite is set to make an impact this season after dealing with injuries on-and-off for the past three years. Her absence from the court means her numbers don’t reflect the potential impact she has. Satterwhite showed her potential on defense securing five rebounds, four assists, and three steals in a game against Colgate last season, as well scoring ability with six points and two assists against Duke. She has the potential to gain a bigger role as the lineup shifts this season and continues to bring invaluable leadership to the team.
Senior center Jordan Hamilton did not have the season she expected last year after she was forced to sit for a portion of the season due to an injury. However, the senior brings experience and offensive potential to the Wildcats heading into 2020-21. Hamilton was a key player during the team’s game against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. She notched a standout performance with 14 points, three rebounds and two assists while the rest of the team struggled, proving her offensive and leadership potential.
Junior center Courtney Shaw made some key plays and rattled the other team’s offense last season, proving her potential to be a starter this year. Her athleticism allows her to make an impact on defense as she plays more physically than her opponents, using her height and speed to break up any team’s momentum. She is another athlete who will likely play a larger role this season as Coach Joe McKeown looks to fill some holes in the lineup.
An incoming forward to look out for, first-year Anna Morris could make a splash on the court this year. Coach Joe McKeown has praised this five-star recruit as someone who rebounds like Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and shoots like Abi Scheid. Morris was ranked 46th in the country out of high school and surely brings potential with her height and previous accolades. Morris won All-State honors four years in a row, and was a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
Coach Joe McKeown has expressed his excitement and knows Morris’s potential.
“It's going to be a hard matchup for a lot of people because they're her size, but she has the ability to step out and stretch the floor,” Coach McKeown said.