Women’s Basketball: No. 18 Northwestern looks to win six straight with victory over Rutgers

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Lindsey Pulliam shoots from behind the arc. The junior is one of NU’s best scorers, but struggled against Nebraska on Sunday.

Drew Schott, Reporter


Women’s Basketball


After 25 games, No. 18 Northwestern is in a great position for the postseason.

The Wildcats are half-a-game back from first place in the Big Ten and are on track for a bye in the first two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament. According to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, the Cats are also projected to have home-court advantage at Welsh-Ryan Arena as a No. 4 seed during the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

But to reap the rewards of postseason byes and playing in front of a home crowd, NU must continue to win. On Wednesday, the Cats (22-3, 12-2 Big Ten) will put their five-game victory streak on the line as Rutgers (18-7, 8-6) comes to Evanston.

NU’s offense will be challenged by the Scarlet Knights, who currently have the best scoring defense in the conference. Giving up only 54.8 points per game, Rutgers’ defensive front is led by guard Arella Guirantes and forward Tekia Mack. Guirantes and Mack are the Scarlet Knights’ two top rebounders and Mack, a Chicago native, leads the team in steals, averaging 2.1 per game.

The Cats are also strong defensively, as the team only gives up 56 points per game, good for second in the Big Ten. And if NU’s offense — averaging nearly 75 points across its five-game win streak — continues its production, the Cats could outduel the Scarlet Knights, who have lost two of their last three games.

To win its sixth straight game, the Cats’ scorers must counter Rutgers’ tough defense. Currently, four NU players average more than 10 points a game: junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, senior forward Abi Scheid, senior center Abbie Wolf and sophomore guard Veronica Burton.

Burton has been one of NU’s best players as of late, averaging 16.6 points over the win streak. Scheid, the nation’s top three-point shooter, has made 11 triples across the last five games. Off the bench, junior guard Jordan Hamilton is a crucial piece for the Cats, scoring 10 points including a crucial three-pointer in the team’s win over Nebraska.

But Pulliam’s performance may define whether NU beats their Big Ten adversary. Despite making the game-winning jump shot against the Cornhuskers, the Cats’ leading scorer shot 1-for-13 from the field. If Pulliam continues her poor shot selection, NU may struggle to score. But if the Maryland native — who averaged 21.5 points in the four games before facing Nebraska — gets back to her old ways, the Cats’ offense will be very difficult to stop.

NU has the key advantage of playing the Scarlet Knights on their home court. The Cats have won their last five games at Welsh-Ryan Arena and coach Joe McKeown is excited that NU gets to face Rutgers — one of the top teams in the conference — on its turf.

“What a great place to play, Welsh-Ryan,” McKeown said. “It’s just a great atmosphere and a (great) arena.”

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Twitter: @dschott328

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