Women’s Basketball: No. 14 Northwestern looks to clinch share of Big Ten title against Illinois

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Lindsey Pulliam smiles after a shot. The junior guard and the Wildcats are one win away from a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

Drew Schott, Reporter


Women’s Basketball


On Oct. 21, the 14 women’s basketball coaches of the Big Ten and a select group of media members released their preseason predictions for the top five teams in the conference. Northwestern wasn’t on either ballot.

More than four months later, the No. 14 Wildcats (25-3, 15-2) have proven their doubters wrong.

“We’ve had an incredible run this year,” coach Joe McKeown said. “The women’s college basketball world has taken notice.”

Not only is NU tied for first place in the Big Ten, but the Cats are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. The squad is tied for the fourth-most wins of any team ranked in the AP Top 25 and is expected to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme.

NU can cap off one of the best regular seasons in team history with its regular-season finale Saturday against Illinois (11-17, 2-15).

A Senior Day win over the Fighting Illini would give the Cats 26 victories — a new program record — and a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” McKeown said. “But to go into the last week of the season tied for first says a lot about this group and the leadership we have from a lot of players.”

NU will face one of its weakest opponents of the season. Illinois — in the midst of a five-game losing streak — is second-to-last in the Big Ten and has only one conference road win.

Even though forward Kennedi Myles is tied for the fourth-most rebounds and fifth-most steals in the Big Ten, the Fighting Illini’s defense — which gives up 71 points per game — is no match for the Cats’ potent offense.

Four NU starters — junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, senior forward Abi Scheid, sophomore guard Veronica Burton and senior center Abbie Wolf — average more than 10 points per game. Throughout the Cats’ current eight-game win streak, the squad has averaged about 76 points per game behind Pulliam — the reigning ESPN national Player of the Week — and Scheid, the nation’s top 3-point shooter.

“Our offense is hard to stop,” Pulliam said. “If somebody’s down one night, somebody else is picking up the slack. It makes us really hard to guard for other teams.”

The Cats’ two best scorers have flourished against the Fighting Illini. Last year, Pulliam averaged 15.5 points in the Cats’ season-sweep of Illinois. Scheid, who missed one of the contests, torched NU’s in-state rival 14 months ago, scoring 25 points and nailing four triples in a 68-45 win. This season, Pulliam and Scheid scored 27 and 11 points, respectively, in the Cats’ 77-50 victory over the Fighting Illini in December.

Before tip-off Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Scheid, Wolf and three other seniors will be honored for bringing 78 wins to Evanston over four years.

Heading into this weekend, Scheid understands that her NU career is winding down. But the Minnesota native knows there is still a lot more basketball left to play. Battles in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament await.

“I know the season is not over,” Scheid said. “It’s not even close.”

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