Warren’s World: Lindsey Pulliam, the best in the Big Ten

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Lindsey Pulliam takes a layup. The junior guard was an unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection.

Peter Warren, Sports Columnist

As Lindsey Pulliam and Joe McKeown sat at a table in the Welsh-Ryan Arena media room with the Big Ten trophy between them on Saturday, just minutes after claiming a share of the title, McKeown took a moment to acknowledge the junior captain.

“Not only is this the best player in the Big Ten,” McKeown said, “this is the best leader in the Big Ten.”

And after the season Pulliam’s played, it’s tough to disagree with him.

Some people are born to do certain things. Billy Joel was born to play the piano. Andrelton Simmons was born to play shortstop. “Pull-up” Pulliam was born to shoot. As McKeown, one of the best quotes at Northwestern, said last winter, “She probably led the state of Maryland in scoring in her crib.” She’s scored the ball at will this campaign, but she’s done even more on the court too.

Heading into the season, Pulliam was already a national name. She was All-Big Ten first team as a sophomore, played on the U.S. junior national team at the Pan American Games over the summer and was put on the watch list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which is given to the best shooting guard in the country. Everyone knew she was great, but there were questions about if she could reach that next level.

It’s really tough for a guard to be elite if they can’t hit a triple, and heading into the season, her 3-point shooting was easily the weakest part of her game. She shot a dismal 18 percent on 77 attempts as a sophomore. But she grinded over the summer, and now it’s a strength in her offensive arsenal. She’s third on the team in 3-point shooting at 35 percent with 119 attempts. When the ball is in her hands, there’s now no way to stop her. All defenders can do is hope and pray.

“She has whatever the light is past green,” McKeown said after a win in November. “Neon green? I don’t know. There’s probably another color that she has. And she’s gonna have that ‘til she graduates.”

While she improved the weakest aspects of her game, she still continues to add to her strengths as well. She’s averaging just over 19 points per game with career-highs in assists, rebounds and steals and playing some of the best defense since she first put on the purple and white.

Even when she is off her game, Pulliam still steps up. Against Nebraska a few weeks ago, the Maryland native did not have the hot hand: she didn’t hit a single shot for the first 39 minutes of the game. But with the game tied at 56, Pullaim wasn’t afraid. She nailed a turnaround jumper — her first make of the day — around the free throw line with 28 seconds left to give NU a lead it wouldn’t surrender. A month prior, she hit the game-winning layup at the buzzer despite another off-shooting night against Minnesota. Not only is she fearless in the clutch, but she’s got the ice in her veins to back it up.

But Monday, Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle was named Big Ten Player of the Year. Doyle led the Hawkeyes to a 23-6 mark while averaging 18.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Doyle won the award over Pulliam, Maryland’s Kalia Charles, who averaged 15.0 points 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists, and Michigan’s Naz Hillmon — who averaged 17.1 points and 8.6 rebounds.

Doyle, Charles and Hillmon are fantastic players, but I find it difficult to believe they were better than Pulliam this year.

This is especially true when considering the role Pulliam has had as a leader on one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. Northwestern was not projected to finish in the top five of the Big Ten by either the media or the coaches. And now the team is Big Ten Regular Season champs with a chance for a conference title this weekend, and is all but guaranteed to host a regional in a few weeks’ time. Pulliam played as big a role as anyone in that rise.

Her hatred of losing was something that stuck out to McKeown while he recruited her, and that has changed the dynamic of the program. She wants to win so badly, and it’s rubbed off on everyone.

“She wants to tell you I’m going to score on you,” McKeown said. “She, more importantly, wants to tell you, I play for a great team.”

Now I have no idea how Doyle, Charles and the other team leaders in the Big Ten perform in those roles. But I have seen firsthand the respect Pulliam’s teammates have for her, and the drive, determination and dedication to the game of basketball she demonstrates on a daily basis. It’s admirable and incredible to watch.

While she didn’t win Big Ten Player of the Year, Pulliam was a unanimous All-Big Ten first team selection, and she could see even more awards in her future. As McKeown says so frequently: “She’s a baller.”

And, to me, she’s the best baller in the Big Ten.

Peter Warren is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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