Women’s Basketball: Northwestern looks to bounce back against Michigan at Welsh-Ryan Arena

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Abi Schied looks to pass the ball. The senior forward has hit a cold stretch in her last two games.

Drew Schott, Reporter

Despite making a run to last season’s WNIT Championship Game, not many people expected Northwestern to have such a hot start to its 2019-2020 campaign.

In its first 20 games, the Wildcats upset No. 12 Maryland on New Year’s Eve and defeated No. 15 Indiana in an overtime thriller. Additionally, NU won six straight road games for the first time in more than two decades and jumped into the AP Top 25 ten days ago for the first time since Jan. 4, 2016.

However, the team is at a crossroads. On Sunday, the No. 20 Terrapins got their revenge and beat the No. 22 Cats 70-61 in College Park, handing the squad its first road loss of the season. Now sitting at No. 23 in the nation and in a tie for second place in the Big Ten, NU (17-3, 7-2 Big Ten) must rebound and return to their winning ways as Michigan (13-6, 4-4) comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday night.

“Going into the end of January… this is the deepest I’ve ever seen the Big Ten,” coach Joe McKeown said. “One through 14 can beat each other. The league is so deep and I think you’re going to see that in March.”

McKeown said losing to Maryland was a good wake-up call for the squad, who he said has to rebound better — specifically on the offensive glass — and limit turnovers. At the Xfinity Center, the Terrapins had 16 more offensive rebounds than the Cats and NU committed 16 turnovers to Maryland’s 14.

Looking ahead to the Wolverines, the Cats will face a middle-of-the-road Big Ten squad with the conference’s fifth-best scoring offense and sixth-best scoring defense. The Wolverines also have one of the Big Ten’s best scorers in Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Naz Hillmon, who averages 16.1 points per game.

But NU has shown that they have no problem shutting down top shooters. In its 76-48 road win against Michigan State, the conference’s second-best scoring defense held Spartan sophomore Nia Clouden — then averaging 15.4 points as the Big Ten’s eight leading scorer — to 0 points.

To reclaim first place in the conference, the Cats need senior forward Abi Scheid’s hot hand to return. Over a four-game stretch in January, Scheid averaged more than 18 points a game. But in NU’s last two matchups, the Minnesota native has only scored a combined 11 points.

If Scheid — who recently topped 1,000 career points— regains her offensive prowess, she will help spread the floor and create defensive difficulties for opposing Big Ten squads. An increased offensive role for Scheid will take the pressure off of scorers like junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, who dropped 20 points against Maryland, but shot 33% from the field.

Pulliam said the team has unfinished business with Maryland that they’ll take care of in the Big Ten Tournament. But for now, the Cats’ leading scorer said NU is fully focused on Michigan and will “do what we gotta do” to get a win.

“We have so much firepower on this team,” Scheid said after the Cats’ victory against Penn State. “When one person’s off, four people can step up.”

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