Women’s Basketball: Wildcats show separation from bottom of the league with win over Wisconsin


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Veronica Burton dribbles the ball. Her presence has made a major difference in Northwestern’s improved season

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

A little more than a year ago against Wisconsin — right before hitting the biggest shot of her young career — Jordan Hamilton was biting her jersey as she dribbled the ball down the floor in what became her first Big Ten win that went down to the wire.

In the 2019 matchup, those freshman nerves were gone, and against the Badgers there would be no drama — just a much-improved team dropping a wrecking ball on the opponent that stayed at the bottom of the conference.

After NU’s (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten) 72-46 win against the Badgers (10-9, 1-6), the Cats now sit tied for fifth in the Big Ten, matching their number of conference wins from last season.

“There are a lot of highs and lows in this league on a daily basis,” coach Joe McKeown said. “(This year) we’ve won tough road games in tough environments like at Indiana. We’re hanging in there pretty good, and if you ask the other 13 Big Ten coaches they’d say the same thing.”

In a game between the two teams that finished 12th and 13th in the Big Ten last season, the Cats were propelled by a 21-2 run that spanned the second and third quarter. The Badgers scored just two points in the second quarter, as they struggled to get touches in the paint for forward Marsha Howard, who finished with just 11 points.

On the other end, senior center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah dropped a casual 21 points and 15 rebounds and sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam added 21 herself to snap out of a recent shooting slump. After the opening stretch of the game, McKeown said he told the players they should facilitate even more for Pulliam, who went 11-12 from the free throw line.

“We just played as a team,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. “I really felt that we took our scout from practice and our game plan and really did what we were supposed to do in this game.”

More than in conference play last season, opposing defenses are having a harder time keeping the ball out of Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s hands while Pulliam and Hamilton attack from the perimeter. On both ends, NU presented a difficult set of challenges against a Badgers team that recently handed Purdue one of its two conference losses.

With nine Big Ten teams within two games of each other in the standings, the Cats are right in the middle of a conference race that last year they watched from the sidelines.

“Our message is that it’s really about us and how we prepare for every game,” McKeown said. “The three games we’ve lost we could have won. It’s been a crazy start, but we’re only 7 games into an 18 game conference schedule…In these (next) games, if you’re lucky enough to be in it and stay healthy, that’s when you’re going to make your run.”

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Twitter: @2021_charlie