Women’s Basketball: Cats look to repeat last year’s success with revamped defense and returning stars

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Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Joe McKeown stands on the sidelines. The reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year and Northwestern are looking to win their second-straight Big Ten title.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Women’s Basketball


Last season was historic for Northwestern before it ended on a bitter note because of an upset in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19.

The Wildcats won their first Big Ten title in 30 years, set a program win record and had six players receive All-Big Ten honors. Additionally, coach Joe McKeown won Big Ten Coach of The Year for the first time in his career.

Heading into the 2020-21 season, McKeown said the Cats are ready to pick up where they left off.

“We’re coming off a great year and (returning with) a core of players with a lot of experience,” McKeown said. “Our practices have been good, they’ve been competitive, and we’re just ready to go.”

NU’s quest for a second-straight Big Ten title will be headlined by senior guard Lindsey Pulliam. After averaging 18.8 points and earning a unanimous spot on the All-Big Ten First Team last season, the Maryland native earned the title of Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year by the media.

On the defensive front, junior guard Veronica Burton — the 2019 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year — returns to anchor a unit that was the conference’s third-best last season.

McKeown said redshirt junior guard Lauryn Satterwhite and junior forward Courtney Shaw will be key contributors to the Cats’ defense this season. He added that Satterwhite brings speed and strong transition play to the unit, while Shaw’s play near the glass — she grabbed 81 rebounds last season — reminds him of Nia Coffey, the program’s all-time leading rebounder.

Additionally, the coach emphasized that NU is ready to create a strong defensive presence in one of the country’s toughest conferences.

“We’ve always been in the top three or four (defenses),” McKeown said. “So, you know, it’s a personal thing for our team and a pride thing.”

A looming question this offseason for the Cats — who ranked No. 17 in the preseason AP Top 25 — has been how the team will replace last year’s dominant frontcourt of Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf. During the Cats’ historic season, Scheid was the nation’s second-best 3-point shooter and Wolf led the team in rebounds on the way to an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.

McKeown said their departure will increase playing time for players such as Shaw and junior guard Sydney Wood. He added that freshmen Anna Morris — a former five-star recruit — and Paige Mott will be assets in the post.

Reflecting on Scheid and Wolf, McKeown said it will be hard to replace them after stellar performances last season.

“(They’re) great kids and great core players,” McKeown said. “They’re a lot of fun. I miss both of them every day.”

This season, McKeown said NU will likely play in a fan-less Welsh-Ryan Arena. Because of the team’s “incredible” crowds last season, he said having no one in the stands will be difficult. Regardless, he still believes that his team will flourish on the court.

Even with rising COVID-19 case numbers in Illinois and across the country, McKeown is optimistic about playing the 2020-21 campaign.

“I feel confident that a lot of smart people out there… are trying to make decisions on the number of people at games or the way teams will travel,” McKeown said. “Maybe a little bumpy in the preseason, but hopefully we’ll get through this and get back to March Madness.”

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Twitter: @dschott328

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