Women’s Basketball: No. 18 Northwestern heads to Madison, aims to win seventh straight


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Sydney Wood dribbles the ball. Wood and the Wildcats will head north to face Wisconsin this weekend.

Drew Schott, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

Last February, Northwestern ended its 12-game losing streak to Penn State under coach Joe McKeown, beating the Nittany Lions 78-63. With four regular-season games left, the Wildcats were tied for fourth place in the Big Ten with their NCAA Tournament aspirations still very much alive.

But instead of embarking on a winning streak, the Cats collapsed. Losing three of its final four games, NU dropped to eighth in the conference and fell in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Even though the team made a run to the WNIT title game, it bugged McKeown to know that the Cats came that close to making the Big Dance for the first time since 2015.

As a result, the 11th-year head coach wanted his players to be hungry for a national tournament berth this season.

“We want to finish it off,” McKeown said. “I think that’s how our players feel, which is what you want if you’re me. You want them to have a little bittersweet outlook on this year.”

Now 26 games into the regular season, the No. 18 Cats look like one of the best teams in the country. NU — who topped its 2018-2019 season win total in mid-February — is half a game back from first place in the Big Ten and is a projected No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.

In addition to having the conference’s second-best scoring defense, many of the team’s players are having career years. The Cats’ leading scorer, junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, is one of 10 finalists for the Meyers Award, given to the nation’s top shooting guard. Senior forward Abi Scheid is the top 3-point shooter in the country with a 48.1 percent clip from behind the arc. And sophomore guard Veronica Burton — who has the eighth-most steals nationally — was named to the Midseason Team for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year in January.

McKeown — who was named to the Late Season Watch List for the Naismith Coach of the Year on Wednesday— called this NU team one of the best he’s coached in recent years.

“These guys are resilient,” McKeown said. “Any adversity you throw at them they seem to handle. I’m really proud of them.”

This Saturday, the Cats (23-3, 13-2 Big Ten) will head to Madison to face Wisconsin (11-16, 3-13) and try to get their second seven-game win streak of the season. In the first part of a two-game road trip, NU will face a struggling Badger squad that has lost their last five games.

Even though Wisconsin has the conference’s ninth-best scorer in forward Imani Lewis, the Badgers’ offense — ranked 12th in the Big Ten — will be challenged by the Cats’ defensive unit.

Despite Wisconsin’s substandard conference performance, McKeown knows NU can’t underestimate its opponent, especially since the Cats are playing at the Kohl Center.

“It’s a gauntlet in the Big Ten and we’ve just gotta be ready to play every night,” McKeown said. “Our league is crazy, one through 14.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @dschott328