Reliving Northwestern’s best sports moments of the past four years

Graduation Issue

Ups and downs in Northwestern athletics have marked the Class of 2020’s time in Evanston. From the Men’s Basketball march madness in berth in spring 2017 to the head-turning seasons in Lacrosse, Softball and Women’s Golf, students have been through many highs. Football both won the Big Ten West title as students were bussed out to Indianapolis for the championship game — and finished toward the bottom of the conference. Women’s Basketball, while struggling a few years ago, won the Big Ten for first time since 1990 this year.

Relive some of the biggest moments in Northwestern sports through the stories and photos below.

3/2/2017: Derek Pardon and Nathan Taphorn make jaw-dropping play against Michigan

Nathan Taphorn tossed a picture-perfect full-court inbound pass with 1.7 seconds remaining to Dererk Pardon, who laid in a bucket as time expired to give the Wildcats an unforgettable 67-65 win over Michigan — and essentially clinch their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Students stormed the court of the old Welsh-Ryan Arena, mobbing Taphorn, Pardon, Bryant McIntosh, coach Chris Collins and the rest of the team in a celebration 78 years in the making.

3/16/2017: Men’s Basketball makes it to the Big Dance for the first time

In its NCAA Tournament debut, Northwestern showed it belonged.

The eighth-seeded Wildcats led ninth-seeded Vanderbilt for the vast majority of their first-round matchup, then survived some late dramatics as McIntosh sunk the decisive free throws in the final minute.

In the second round, NU trailed Gonzaga — which went on to finish as national runner-up — by a large margin in the first half, but battled back spiritedly after the break before the infamous missed goaltending call stalled the rally.

Bryant McIntosh celebrates after Northwestern’s win over Vanderbilt. The junior guard scored 25 points in the victory. (Daily file photo by Colin Boyle)

5/25/2017: Women’s Golf heads to national championships

Northwestern women’s golf fell just short of the 2017 national title, falling to Arizona State in the championship match, but their dramatic run through the tournament — fittingly held just west of Chicago, in Sugar Grove — felt equivalent to a title.

Led by Kacie Komoto, Hannah Kim and Janet Mao, the Wildcats took first place in the stroke play portion of the NCAA Championship, dispatched Kent State in the quarterfinals and then collectively roared back from a dire situation to stun USC in the semifinals.

11/2/2018: Welsh-Ryan reopens after renovation

University president Morton Schapiro, athletic director Jim Phillips and others cut a purple ribbon to open the new arena in 2018.

“This is a transformational moment for us,” Phillips said.

Almost everything about the arena was new and sleek compared to the pre-construction look. Except for the student section, all the seats in the arena are normal event seats with cushioning. The scoreboard over the middle of the court was new and an additional ribbon scoreboard was added that encircles the building.

12/2/2018: Football wins Big Ten West title, heads to Indianapolis for Championship game

Despite losing all three non-conference games in 2018, Northwestern won a remark- able eight of nine Big Ten contests to secure a berth in the conference championship game for the first time since the current format began.

Seniors Clayton Thorson, Flynn Nagel, Montre Hartage helped guide the Wildcats to upset wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa en route to clinching the West Division title with three games left to play. A Homecoming comeback for the ages to top Nebraska in overtime, however, likely takes the cake as the most memorable game of the season.

Though NU lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, the Cats capped the season with a surreal comeback victory against Utah in the Holiday Bowl.

Purple-clad fans cheer on the Wildcats during Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. (Daily file photo by Colin Boyle)

4/1/2019: Women’s Basketball reaches WNIT finals

After several trying years marked by tragedy and disappointment, veteran NU coach Joe McKeown steered his 2019 group to postseason win after postseason win, culminating in a championship game loss in the Women’s NIT to Arizona.

“They made an incredible run,” McKeown said after the final loss. “I want them to feel like they want another taste of this.”

5/3/2019: Softball wins 20th game in a row

Northwestern finished the season 47-13, its best record since 2007, and the Wildcats’ 21 Big Ten wins were their most in program history. They had a 20-game winning streak that lasted from late March to early May and won their first 21 games in conference play.

Along the way, NU put itself back in the national softball spotlight and created a palpable buzz on campus.

5/19/2019: Lacrosse sees first Final Four since 2014

For the first time since 2014 — one year after the program’s run of seven consecutive national titles ended — Northwestern lacrosse advanced to the Final Four in 2019.

Selena Lasota, named the Big Ten Attacker of the Year, led the Wildcats to a 16-5 record, including long-awaited wins over Maryland in the Big Ten championship game and Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

The Wildcats celebrate their 18-14 win over Syracuse on Saturday. NU advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2014. (Daily file photo by Alison Albelda)

11/23/2019: Joe Gaziano breaks NU sack record

In Northwestern’s 38-22 loss to Minnesota on Senior Day, senior defensive end Joe Gaziano broke the school’s all-time sacks record, capping off a fantastic career in purple and white.

He earned career sack number 28.5 halfway through the second quarter in forcing intentional grounding, resulting in a safety to earn him the sack and the record.

2/29/2020: Women’s Basketball wins Big Ten for first time since 1990

For the first time in 30 years, NU clinched a share of the conference championship.

Behind 21 points and nine rebounds from senior center Abbie Wolf and a defensive effort that forced 14 turnovers, the Cats (26-3, 16-2 Big Ten) cruised to a 75-58 win over in-state rival Illinois (11-18, 2-16) on Saturday to give NU its first Big Ten title since the 1989-90 season.

Junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, senior forward Abi Scheid and sophomore guard Veronica Burton added 40 combined points as the Cats set a record for program wins in front of a 4,016-person crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena, its largest for a women’s game since its reopening in the fall of 2018.

“It means the world,” Pulliam said. “It was so awesome to have all that energy in there and have all those people to support us. It obviously makes us play better and makes us give more effort.”

Northwestern clinched a share of its first Big Ten title since the 1989-90 season with a 75-58 win over Illinois on Saturday. From streamers and net-cutting to a court storming, the Wildcats and the 4,016 fans who packed into Welsh-Ryan Arena knew how to celebrate. (Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman)

3/12/2020 Big Ten cancels all athletic events until 2020-2021 academic year

As COVID-19 cases and concerns associated with the disease began to rise nationally, the NCAA and the Big Ten announced they would cancel all upcoming games, including those that take place after the academic year concludes. The conference also announced a memorandum on all on- and off-campus recruiting efforts.

Northwestern had 13 sports in season, and those seasons abruptly ended. Women’s basketball was expected to earn a top-four seed and host NCAA Tournament games at Welsh-Ryan Arena next week, and those games no longer occurred.