Women’s Basketball: Northwestern looks to lock in against Wisconsin in Big Ten Tournament opener


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah attempts a jump shot. The junior forward will look to lead the Cats on a Big Ten Tournament run.

Cassidy Jackson, Reporter

Indianapolis, here Northwestern comes.

With the regular season closed after the Wildcats’ (11-19, 4-12 Big Ten) 63-50 win over Rutgers (19-11, 7-9) on Sunday, the Big Ten Tournament gets underway Wednesday afternoon with the 12th-seeded Cats up against No. 13 Wisconsin on neutral territory in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in NU’s first postseason matchup.

The Cats have struggled in the Big Ten, finishing four wins behind last season’s conference mark of 8-8. This season has brought individual success, however, especially to junior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and freshman guard Lindsey Pulliam. Monday, Kunaiyi-Akpanah was named to the second team All-Big Ten, while Pulliam was named to the conference’s All-Freshman Team.

Kunaiyi-Akpanah and Pulliam have led the NU program this season: Kunaiyi-Akpanah earned 11.8 rebounds per game, putting her second in the conference; Pulliam, on the other hand, posted 14.6 points per game, placing her 15th in the Big Ten in scoring.

Kunaiyi-Akpanah said she’s discovered her true role with the Cats this season and makes sure to fill it each time she hits the court.

“For me personally, (I’m) just doing all I can to help my teammates out, being there, getting us rebounds (and) extra possessions,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. “All that stuff is really valuable, especially for a young team that needs all the chances it can get. So, I’m just trying to be that person that gives my team second chances.”

Similarly, Pulliam said each player must play their role confidently Wednesday to defeat the Badgers. The two teams split the season series 1-1. In their first meeting, the Cats were able to box out the Badgers, walking away with a 69-60 win in Beardsley Gym. But when Wisconsin got a chance to redeem themselves, they took it, winning 58-46 in Madison.

Pulliam said the team’s confidence, or lack thereof, made the difference between the win and the loss.

“We were confident in ourselves (in the first game),” Pulliam said. “We bought into the game. In the second game, I don’t think it was necessarily anything they did. It was us beating ourselves … letting them dictate the game for us. So, I think just focusing on us and not what the other team’s doing (will make us successful).”

Along with individual contributions and confidence, Pulliam said defensively NU must lock in to make the difference in Wednesday’s game.

According to coach Joe McKeown, the team’s focus the entirety of the regular season was less on their record and more on seeing growth in all areas. Yet a mentality shift is now demanded of the Cats.

“This is not about anything else,” McKeown said. “We’re not trying to get better. This is winner advances. If you don’t win, you go home, so you have to have a sense of urgency.”

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Twitter: @CassidyKJackson