Women’s Basketball: Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah closes out upset over No. 15 Spartans

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Women’s Basketball: Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah closes out upset over No. 15 Spartans

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah lays it in. The senior forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the upset over the Spartans.

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah lays it in. The senior forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the upset over the Spartans.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah lays it in. The senior forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the upset over the Spartans.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah lays it in. The senior forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the upset over the Spartans.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

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Women’s Basketball


Even though she’s been a stubborn thorn in the side of opponents for the last four years and a force on the offensive end since she dropped a 27-21 game in Nov. 2017, senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had never taken a game in doubt and dictated the outcome with her play.

While she had 13 points before the last minute of regulation, Kunaiyi-Akpanah waited until then to take a game No. 15 Michigan State thought was going one way and twist it 360 degrees.

Coach Joe McKeown drew up a post-up for Kunaiyi-Akpanah with Northwestern up one with under a minute remaining. After Kunaiyi-Akpanah converted and extended the lead to four, she sent Spartans guard Nia Clouden’s runner into oblivion before being fouled again with 28 seconds remaining and making another free throw to finish the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Since she earned a starting spot last year, it was the first time Kunaiyi-Akpanah had ever called game and the first time any of these players pulled off a ranked upset in the Big Ten.

“They took a lot of bumps last year and they played a lot of minutes,” McKeown said after NU’s (9-5, 2-1 Big Ten) 70-62 win over Michigan State (11-2, 1-1). “And now you’re seeing that pay off.”

To hold the highest scoring team so far in the Big Ten to 62 points, it took one of the better defensive performances for Kunaiyi-Akpanah and the front line. While Michigan State forward Shay Colley scored 28 points, it took her 23 shots, and the rest of the Spartans shot 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc.

McKeown mixed an aggressive man defense with a zone that forced the Spartans into their half-court sets and then into quick decisions.

“She still made some tough shots, and they’re a talented team, but I felt like she had to earn everything, especially in the fourth quarter,” McKeown said.

“We ran this extended zone,” added Kunaiyi-Akpanah. “So it was more about trying to force them to take quick shots, trying to crowd them on their shots so they don’t get off as easy shots.”

Like the Cats did against Illinois, they ran in transition and created easier chances for sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, who finished with a team-high 18 points after struggling from the field through the back-end of nonconference play.

Sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton and freshman guard Veronica Burton – the primary defenders on Colley – struggled from the field and combined for just 13 points, but Hamilton hit a significant three late in the game and their ball-handling kept Michigan State from pressing its way to victory, like many teams did against NU last season.

It was the first conference win over a ranked opponent since beating Rutgers in 2015, and the Cats defeated a team coming off a win against Iowa – a preseason favorite in the Big Ten.

“We’re starting to come back to the team that won at Green Bay and beat Duke,” McKeown said. “Gave us a taste of what we can be.”

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_charlie

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