Women’s Basketball: Northwestern enters crucial stretch of conference play against Michigan State

Lindsey+Pulliam+jogs+down+the+court.+The+junior+guard+scored+22+points+during+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+January+win+over+Michigan+State.

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Lindsey Pulliam jogs down the court. The junior guard scored 22 points during Northwestern’s January win over Michigan State.

Drew Schott, Reporter


Women’s Basketball


No. 21 Northwestern hasn’t lost much this season. After 22 games, the Wildcats have fallen only three times, all to teams who are currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

NU is in the midst of one of its best seasons in program history due to the Cats boasting the Big Ten’s second-best scoring defense and the nation’s top three-point shooter in senior forward Abi Scheid. But NU’s ability to bounce back from tough losses has been arguably the most important factor of the squad’s success.

After a December loss to No. 16 DePaul, the Cats went on a seven-game win streak before falling to unranked Iowa by 26 points. Following their worst loss of the season, NU won five straight games.

Since losing to No. 20 Maryland 70-61 two weeks ago, the Cats (19-3, 9-2 Big Ten) have won two straight and will look to continue their victory streak against Michigan State (11-11, 8-2) on Monday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

With less than a month remaining in conference play, the Cats are currently ranked third in the Big Ten, which would give NU a bye in the first two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament. As of Sunday, the Cats are only one game behind No. 20 Iowa and No. 13 Maryland for first place in the conference. The Hawkeyes and Terrapins will face off Thursday in College Park, a game that will have major implications for NU’s conference seeding.

Earlier this year, the Cats defeated the Spartans 76-48 in East Lansing by playing its best all-around game of the season. Junior guard Lindsey Pulliam and sophomore guard Veronica Burton both scored 22 points and NU held Michigan State to its fewest points of the season.

To beat the Spartans once again, the Cats will need to step up their defensive play. Throughout the season, NU has given up only 55.9 points per game. But over their last three games, the Cats have given up more than 67 points a game.

Additionally, NU will need to shut down Michigan State’s leading scorer Nia Clouden. The Cats achieved this during their 28-point triumph over the Spartans, holding Clouden, who was at the time the Big Ten’s eight-leading scorer, to zero points.

But the sophomore has regained her touch since Michigan State’s loss to NU. Clouden has averaged nearly 15 points across her last three games and ranks third in the conference with an 81% free throw percentage.

To counter Clouden, NU’s guard tandem of Pulliam and Burton will need to rise to the occasion. Pulliam — who is the third-best scorer in the Big Ten — has averaged almost 24 points since the Cats’ victory against the Spartans and should be the offensive focus for NU. Burton, who leads the conference in steals and is second in assists, is one of the Cats’ best defensive players and will likely have the tall task of shutting down Clouden.

Due to Pulliam and Burton’s strong performances in East Lansing earlier this year, Michigan State may put more pressure on the guards. As a result, Scheid may be the game’s X factor. After scoring 11 combined points against the Spartans and Maryland, the senior bounced back by scoring 26 combined points in wins against Michigan and Penn State. If Scheid, who has shot 80% from behind the arc over the past three games, continues her hot streak from behind the arc, Michigan State will struggle to stop NU’s offense.

With only seven games remaining in the regular season, every game matters for the Cats as the team looks to return to the top of the Big Ten. A win against the Spartans to give NU its fourth three-game win streak of the season is the first step of that journey.

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Twitter: @dschott328

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