Daily file photo by Josh Hoffman
Against the Big Ten’s best scoring defense, No. 18 Northwestern played like the conference’s best team.
Junior guard Lindsey Pulliam and sophomore guard Veronica Burton combined to score 50 points as the Wildcats (23-3, 13-2 Big Ten) defeated the Scarlet Knights (18-8, 8-7) 82-65 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Senior center Abbie Wolf added 14 points and NU’s defense — ranked second-best in the conference — forced 11 turnovers to give the Cats their sixth-straight win.
“We were able to get the shots we wanted and transition early,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We kept expanding on (our lead) and I thought we kept the pace up. That was really important.”
Calling themselves “the best backcourt in the Big Ten,” Pulliam and Burton both had stellar performances on Wednesday night. Pulliam, who shot 1-for-13 against Nebraska, bounced back in a big way by scoring 27 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Burton, who McKeown called the “most underrated player in college basketball,” dropped 23 points and dished out nine assists.
NU’s commanding zone defense was on full display early on as Wolf obtained two blocks within the first sixty seconds and the Cats held Rutgers scoreless for nearly three minutes. Offensively, NU started off fast, with senior forward Abi Scheid and Pulliam draining three-pointers, causing the Scarlet Knights to press the Cats. But Pulliam — who scored nine points in 10 minutes — helped NU combat the aggressive defense and take a 16-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Maryland native continued her shooting streak into the second, scoring five points to jumpstart a 21-8 run for the Cats. Over the next ten minutes, NU shot better than 60 percent from both the field and behind the arc, as 19 combined points from Pulliam, Wolf and Burton — who scored a buzzer-beating layup — fueled a Cats rally that gave the squad a 37-22 lead at halftime. During the quarter, NU played some of their best defense of the season, causing three Scarlet Knight turnovers and forcing Rutgers to shoot 20 percent from the field.
“We were able to get out in transition,” Pulliam said. “We dictated the pace of the game and we were able to control what we wanted to do and we knew that we wanted to attack.”
Pulliam still had the hot hand in the third quarter, scoring five points in three minutes. As the Scarlet Knights put pressure on the junior, the Cats’ other scorers caught fire, extending the team’s lead to 30 at one point. Scheid — the nation’s most accurate three-point shooter — nailed two triples as the Cats shot 80 percent from behind the arc over ten minutes.
Burton, one of the best two-way players in the Big Ten, scored 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting and had three steals. Holding Rutgers to below 50 percent shooting, NU used a 27-15 run to take a commanding 64-37 lead after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, the Cats led by as many as 26 points, allowing McKeown to give bench players such as senior guard Byrdy Galernik and sophomore forward Courtney Shaw valuable minutes as NU cruised to its 17-point win.
With three games left in the regular season, NU will head to Madison and Columbus for its next two conference contests. Calling Welsh-Ryan a special arena, McKeown said he wishes the Cats had more home games because of its energetic crowd.
But no matter where NU plays, Burton said the squad will flourish on the court.
“The confidence that my teammates give me… is a great feeling,” Burton said.
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