Women’s Basketball: Pulliam and Burton guide Northwestern to season sweep of Michigan State


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Veronica Burton moves the ball down the court. The sophomore guard finished with 23 points in NU’s win over Michigan State.

Drew Schott, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

A little more than two weeks ago, No. 19 Northwestern played like one of the best teams in the Big Ten and beat Michigan State 76-48.

Meeting again Monday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats went into their second matchup against the Spartans with a similar game plan to that January win. However, there was one key difference this time: coach Joe McKeown would not be on the sidelines orchestrating his team’s performance.

McKeown missed Monday’s game due to an illness, forcing NU to elevate assistant coach Kate Popovec — a former Cats player who joined the staff in 2017 — to be its interim coach.

But McKeown’s absence didn’t impact NU’s (20-3, 10-2 Big Ten) success, as the team won 85-55 over Michigan State (11-12, 4-8), completing a season sweep of the Spartans for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

Junior guard Lindsey Pulliam and sophomore guard Veronica Burton shined — scoring 31 points and 23 points, respectively — and the Big Ten’s second-best scoring defense held Michigan State to its second-lowest scoring total of the season.

“I just love the effort of these girls and this team,” Popovec said. “They are a player-led team. They make our lives easy because of the way that they come in and compete and how bought in they are into what we do.”

In the game’s opening minutes, Michigan State came out firing, as junior guard Taryn McCutcheon’s two three-point shots gave the Spartans an early 6-0 lead. But the Cats quickly flipped the script on their Big Ten adversaries by scoring 17 straight points. Burton — who also grabbed eleven rebounds in 40 minutes — scored nine points to help NU build a ten-point lead at the end of the first.

Less than a minute into the second quarter, Pulliam — who on Monday became the fastest player in program history to reach 1,500 points — drained a short jump shot. Fifty-two seconds later, she nailed three free throws to give NU a 29-14 lead. This was the beginning of one of the best quarters this season for the Maryland native.

Pulliam dropped 14 of the Cats’ 23 second-quarter points, the same number of points that Michigan State scored during the same period. Making jump shots from all over the floor, she fueled an NU rally that gave the Cats’ a 47-28 lead heading into halftime.

“At (the) pregame meal, Coach was like, ‘Can you just get 30 for me today?’” Pulliam said. “And I was like … I’m going to make your job easy tonight.”

Michigan State went on a 4-0 run to begin the third quarter, but NU quickly halted the momentum. After going scoreless for nearly three minutes, Pulliam drained a short pull-up jumper that sparked another rally for the Cats. NU went on a 17-4 run to end the third quarter that saw Pulliam and Burton shoot a combined 71 percent from the floor and score 16 of NU’s 19 points.

In the fourth quarter, the Cats led by as many as 32 points, allowing Popovec to give bench players such as senior forward Byrdy Galernik and sophomore guard Jess Sancataldo valuable minutes as the squad cruised to its 30-point victory.

NU’s third-straight win has the team only half a game out from first place in the Big Ten, a position currently co-held by No. 10 Maryland and No. 17 Iowa. The Cats now additionally have 10 conference wins for the first time since the 2014-15 season, the last time the squad made the NCAA Tournament.

Despite the team’s numerous postseason aspirations, Popevec wants NU to stay focused on its next challenge, a road game in Ann Arbor against Michigan — a team the Cats defeated 81-73 earlier this season. According to Popevec, McKeown will be back behind the bench on Thursday.

“We talk about Big Ten championships and I think as we approach that mark every game, the focus becomes more locked into the next game,” Popevec said. “When you get too far ahead of yourselves, that’s when you kind of start slipping and falling.”

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