Women’s Basketball: Northwestern’s stifling defense leads to 72-46 blowout against Wisconsin


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah attacks the rim. The senior center anchored Northwestern in its best defensive performance of the season

Andrew Golden, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

Defense wins championships.

Or, at least for Northwestern, defense led to a dominant performance against Wisconsin at home, gaining momentum heading into the rest of its Big Ten schedule.

On Sunday, the Wildcats (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten) arguably played their best conference game of the season, relying on their defense to pummel the Badgers (10-9, 1-6) 72-46.

NU’s defense was stifling, particularly in the second quarter, as it held Wisconsin to 2 points on 1-for-17 shooting.

“We really locked in as a team,” senior center Pallas Kuniayi-Akpanah said. “The first quarter we kind of started off slow. We really picked it up and picked up our momentum and defensive intensity in the second quarter.”

With 3:06 remaining in the first quarter, Wisconsin forward Abby Laszewski scored her second straight basket to put the Badgers ahead 15-7. That would be the last time Wisconsin would score a point for almost 10 minutes.

During a stretch that spanned from the first quarter into the late parts of the second quarter, the Wildcats’ suffocating defense forced the Badgers to miss their next 13 shots and turn the ball over 4 times.

Coach Joe McKeown said NU’s stellar play defensively was a result of learning to play with each other, which eventually leads to more success offensively.

“That defensive stretch allowed us to get out and run,” McKeown said. “We got good shots and just like the way we were sharing the basketball. This is a really unselfish team.”

The Wildcats went on a 15-0 run to jump out to a 7-point lead. Sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam went on a run of her own, scoring eight straight points to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

But despite Pulliam’s success, the story of the game was the defense. NU held Wisconsin to shoot 24.6 percent from the field for the whole game. In addition to the defensive stretch in the second quarter, Wisconsin also went the last 6:11 of the game without a field goal.

“We’re doing a better job of finding their two best players,” McKeown said. “And we say that every day: don’t let their two best players beat you on offense. We’re starting to figure that out…I like their intensity. We fouled a little bit that stretch, (but) we’re doing a better job not fouling.”

The Wildcats did finish the game with 15 fouls, but NU came out with more intensity from the start of the game. No one was more important to the Cats’ defensive attack than Kuniayi-Akpanah. McKeown added after the game that she is a unique player because of her rebounding and her effort on the court.

The senior forward finished the game tied with a team-high 21 points, but her 15 rebounds and 3 blocks were arguably more valuable for her team. Kuniayi-Akpanah served as the catalyst for a team that finished the game with 10 steals and 5 blocks.

“The biggest thing for us was just making sure defensively that we competed,” he said. “They’re a big team too and to rebound with them and to make sure we blocked out and put a body on people. We out-rebounded today and I thought that was a big difference for us.”

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