Women’s Basketball: Northwestern watches Michigan State run big to end its season


Daily file photo by Owen Stidman

Lindsey Pulliam forces a layup. The sophomore forward shot 1-for-13 on Thursday.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

When Northwestern’s only senior checked out of the game with 5:28 left in the third quarter and her team up one point, it didn’t seem like Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had played the last meaningful minutes of her career. The senior center, one of the best post players in the conference, went to the bench, which became an invitation for Michigan State to go on a run that would end her season.

The Spartans went on a 16-4 spurt after Kunaiyi-Akpanah earned her third foul of the game and subbed out. When she checked back in, a feel good season for the up-and-coming Wildcats was virtually over.

No. 9 seed Michigan State (20-10, 9-9 Big Ten) defeated No. 8 NU (16-14, 9-9) 68-52 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Cats scored just 20 points in the second half, allowing the Spartans to take control over a game that was tightly contested early on.

“When we beat Michigan State early in the year, it was because of our defense,” coach Joe McKeown said. “Offensively, I think at times we just let our offense affect our defense.”

It didn’t help the cause that sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, who was named First Team All-Big Ten alongside Kunaiyi-Akpanah last week, had 2 points and shot 1-for-13 in her third career postseason game. In two games in Indianapolis last season, Pulliam averaged 20.5 points per game, but she struggled to find open looks in 33 minutes Thursday.

Four different Michigan State players reached double figures, led by forward Shay Colley’s 14 points. The Spartans made 44 percent of their threes in the game, which led to them pulling away in the second half.

In addition to Pulliam’s struggles, sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton shot poorly from the field in her first game back from injury, finishing with 3 points on 13 shots. Junior center Abbie Wolf led NU with 15 points in only 16 minutes in spot relief for Kunaiyi-Akpanah, but she was the only player on the team to make more than five shots.

“Abbie Wolf has had the best second half of the Big Ten (season) that we could even draw up ourselves,” McKeown said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to play this year, for her to get some postseason experience going into her senior year.”

NU is considered a strong candidate to qualify for the 64-team WNIT, which will announce its field next Monday. If the Cats are selected, it would give the team’s young core of Pulliam, Hamilton and freshman guard Veronica Burton the chance to continue to compete for a championship.

Also, for the first time in her four year career, Kunaiyi-Akpanah would get the opportunity to play significant minutes in postseason play, as she played an extremely limited role in the Cats’ NCAA Tournament team her freshman year.

McKeown said he hopes to see his team play in the WNIT, after finishing the regular season with more than double the amount of conference wins than in 2017-18 and victories over three ranked teams.

“(With Burton), Jordan, Pulliam, Sydney Wood, we’ve got a great foundation right now and great experiences that you learn from this and you move on,” he said. “For us to go from four to nine wins in the league is really important. We were close to cracking the top 25 a couple times this year. We’ve got a lot to build on, a lot of positives.”

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