Women’s Basketball: Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s double-double lifts Northwestern to victory


Daily file photo by Sam Schumacher

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah looks on in glee. The freshman enjoyed a breakout game Thursday in just her second career start, notching a double-double.

Cole Paxton, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

The stars seemed to align Thursday for Northwestern, and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah took full advantage.

Making just her second career start, the freshman forward recorded a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, helping the Wildcats (13-4, 2-3 Big Ten) to a stunning 86-82 win over No. 5 Ohio State (12-4, 4-1) on Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Both figures were career highs for Kunaiyi-Akpanah.

“One of the reasons we recruited her is we felt like she could be a physical presence on the glass, which she was tonight,” coach Joe McKeown said of the freshman. “She’s able to score around the basket. When she got offensive rebounds and putbacks, she was poised.”

Kunaiyi-Akpanah especially excelled in the second half, scoring 8 points and adding eight rebounds. Many of her tallies came during an Ohio State run late in the fourth quarter that brought the Buckeyes to within 5. She grabbed an offensive rebound and scored the putback to put NU up 12 with under six minutes to play.

A couple minutes later, she had subpar positioning yet leaped above an Ohio State player to grab the ball. Less than 30 seconds later she took a pass from junior guard Christen Inman and scored, extending NU’s lead to 14.

“It’s a really great feeling,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said of her performance and ability to help her team to victory. “My teammates have been very supportive of when I make a mistake or when I forget the play. They’re always just telling me that it’s okay, just get the next one.”

Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s performance far outclassed any previous effort from the center position for the Cats this season. Senior Christen Johnson, who started 14 games this season, has not scored in double figures nor had at least 10 rebounds in a single game this season. On Thursday, Johnson played just two minutes and did not score.

McKeown said Kunaiyi-Akpanah showed improvement Thursday from earlier in the season, noting that her ability to score on putbacks and pass the ball out following offensive rebounds were “things we’ve been working on with her.”

Her growth on putback plays was especially noticeable. She had two such plays on Thursday; in Sunday’s loss to then-No. 23 Michigan State, she had four offensive rebounds but did not score. She scored just two points in a loss to Purdue on Jan. 7.

Against the Buckeyes, however, Kunaiyi-Akpanah looked like a different player. Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff was among the many impressed.

“She’s a good athlete,” McGuff said. “She plays really hard. She’s got a knack for finding the ball. She was really, really good on the offensive glass.”

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