Women’s Basketball: Northwestern readies for face-off against No. 15 Indiana


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Sydney Wood guard a ball handler. The Wildcats boast the league’s second-best scoring defense, giving up only 53.3 points per game.

Ella Brockway, Sports Editor

If Northwestern wasn’t already fired up for a road matchup against a ranked Big Ten rival in one of college basketball’s most iconic arenas, this week’s AP Poll voters just added fuel to the fire.

The Wildcats, fresh off back-to-back wins and sitting in a tie for first place in the conference, received votes but were left outside of the Top 25 for the fourth straight week when the AP announced its Week 11 rankings on Monday.

The next two weeks — with five games against three ranked or recently-ranked teams — may be the biggest of NU’s season. The Cats (14-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will kick them off with a chance to make perhaps their biggest statement so far: against No. 15 Indiana.

“(The team) wants to be recognized,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They’re working really hard… Are we a top-20 team? Some days. We can beat a lot of people, but we gotta clean some things up.”

On paper, NU and the Hoosiers (14-3, 4-1) carry similar resumes. Both are currently part of a four-way tie for the top spot in the Big Ten. Both followed big wins — the Cats’ to then-No. 12 Maryland on Dec. 31, Indiana’s to in-state rival Purdue on Jan. 9 — with losses to a hot Iowa team after NU dropped to the Hawkeyes on Jan. 5, and the Hoosiers on Jan. 12.

Indiana boasts the second-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten, averaging 75.6 points per game, and the seventh-best field-goal percentage (48.3) of any team in the country, up at the top with the likes of No. 4 UConn and No. 6 Oregon.

The Cats do feature the Big Ten’s second-best scoring defense, allowing only 53.3 points per game, but the last time they faced a team that shot this well, it dominated the game and handed them their first Big Ten loss.

“When we turn people over, you gotta turn that into baskets,” McKeown said. “That’s when we’re really good. We can throw daggers.”

NU will have to shut down the Hoosiers’ leading scorers, guards Ali Patberg and Grace Berger. Patberg, a triple-threat junior, averages 13 points and nearly 5 assists per game, while Berger dropped 6 points in her team’s loss to Iowa.

Indiana’s losses thus far — to the Hawkeyes in double overtime, to No. 2 Baylor in November and No. 7 UCLA in December — have all had a common thread: In those games, the Hoosiers struggled from deep. With a 31.8 percent season average, the Hoosiers aren’t particularly sharp from three, but against the Bears and the Bruins, Indiana went 6-for-36 from behind the arc. Against Iowa, Patberg and Berger shot a combined 0-for-10 from deep.

The Cats have shut down the three-ball before; in its 81-58 win over Maryland earlier this season, NU forced the usually sharp-shooting Terrapins to go 4-for-18 from behind the arc.

“Our main key emphasis was ball pressure,” junior guard Jordan Hamilton said about their defensive efforts against Purdue. “We just figured if we were able to rattle them a little bit, throw the first punch and keep on punching, that would spark our motivation to keep going.”

On their own offensive end, the Cats have seen a relatively quiet last few games from junior guard Lindsey Pulliam. The Maryland native still leads the team with 18.5 points per game, but struggled from field-goal range against Minnesota and Purdue, shooting 7-for-35 from the floor across the two matchups.

But Pulliam has found her groove against the Hoosiers before. She had the best game of her career to date as a freshman on her first trip to Assembly Hall on Feb. 4, 2018, dropping 33 points and hitting 13 field goals in a close 78-73 loss. A year later, she returned to Bloomington and scored 27 points in NU’s six-point win on Jan. 16, 2019.

The Cats will hope she can do the same when she returns to the Carnegie Hall of college basketball on Thursday.

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