Women’s Basketball: Inexperienced Wildcats play with composure in tournament win


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Lindsey Pulliam goes up for a mid-range jump shot. The freshman guard had 24 points in a Big Ten Tournament win over Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

Lindsey Pulliam sprinted down the floor, not bothering to look at the ball as though she knew it would go in. After hitting a contested jump shot late in the second quarter, the freshman guard extended Northwestern’s lead to a 25-16 margin.

At the time, Pulliam had hit as many field goals as Wisconsin, and her 24-point performance likely left an impression on the No. 13 seed Badgers (9-21, 2-14 Big Ten) in the 12th-seeded Wildcats’ (12-19, 4-12) 68-63 win. That’s exactly what freshman guard Jordan Hamilton said the Cats wanted to do in Indianapolis: ensure their competition recognizes their potential and remembers their faces next season.

“We didn’t always have that ability in the regular season,” she said. “I hope they remember how hard it was. I hope that they remember that Northwestern is not a team you can just roll over on.”

Earlier in the season, that’s what their opponents were doing. With five new starters navigating the Big Ten schedule, NU’s first two conference losses were by an average of 28.5 points. Early on, coach Joe McKeown said he told Hamilton and Pulliam he believed they could become the core of a high caliber team.

More than a month later, Pulliam navigated double teams and eclipsed her season average in the first 20 minutes, while Hamilton played a major role in NU holding off the Badgers’ late comeback. The Cats led 57-40 in the fourth quarter before Wisconsin’s full court press led to 7 points off turnovers in the that period alone.

With under a minute left, Hamilton lost the ball and Wisconsin guard Niya Beverley finished a fast break layup to cut the deficit to 2. But Hamilton made a free throw on NU’s next possession to extend the lead, and she drew a game-clinching charge on the other end with only one second remaining.

“Earlier in the season, we probably would have let up a little bit,” Pulliam said. “Now, with how we ended our regular season and moving into the tournament, playing with momentum and confidence is what we need to do.”

The Cats’ frontcourt helped them maintain their lead as the score drew closer. Junior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah nearly recorded her 19th double-double of the season, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore forward Abi Scheid added 9 second-half points as Pulliam drew more attention on the perimeter.

McKeown said the team’s collective success in the second half while Pulliam was being closely guarded is the biggest signifier of NU’s ability, despite its poor record.

“I want them to respect how good this team is now,” McKeown said. “Because of her presence, she got other people open. She didn’t score like she did in the first half because they were keying on her.”

McKeown said he expects the Cats to be a top-20 team in the country next year and Pulliam to lead the conference in scoring. But in what could be its final game of the season against fifth-seeded Iowa on Friday, NU’s young core is going to have to continue to surprise opponents who don’t yet remember their faces.

Pulliam, who hit a number of unbalanced mid-range jumpers against the Badgers, didn’t hesitate if she could again play well against the Hawkeyes and conference player of the year Megan Gustafson.

“Most definitely,” she said. “I think every game (about) coming out aggressive and just being confident.”

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