Women’s Basketball: No. 17 Northwestern dominates Eastern Illinois in season-opener

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Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Lindsey Pulliam shoots a jumpshot. The junior guard finished with 18 points and six rebounds in No. 17 Northwestern’s season-opener.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Women’s Basketball


The last time Northwestern took the floor at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the squad won a Big Ten title for the first time in three decades. On Thursday night, the No. 17 Wildcats returned to their home court for the first time in roughly nine months — and quickly picked up where they left off.

NU’s fast-paced offense, dominant defense and strong rebounding proved too much for Eastern Illinois, (2-3) as the Cats (1-0) controlled all phases of the game in a 93-57 victory.

All five starters scored in double figures to help NU reach its most points in a game since 2018. After trading leads in the opening minutes, the Cats’ defensive presence also kicked into high gear, forcing 24 turnovers and a 39.2 shooting percentage for the Panthers.

“That was a lot of fun,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We came out ready to play (and) shot the ball really well. Defensively, we picked up from where we were last year with our pressure.”

Early on, senior guard Lindsey Pulliam — who scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds — showed why she was selected as the media’s Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. The Maryland native nailed her first three shots of the season and finished the opening quarter with 11 points, two rebounds and two assists after orchestrating a 10-2 Cats run.

Her fellow guard in the backcourt — junior Veronica Burton — quickly established her on-court finesse as well. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year sunk a buzzer-beater layup at the end of the first quarter and had one of the best stretches of her career later in the game: an eight-minute third quarter with nine points and three steals.

The Massachusetts native, who finished with 21 points, six assists and five steals, said NU’s collaborative approach allowed for baskets in transition and important defensive stops.

“I got a lot of easy buckets thanks to my teammates getting deflections and getting steals and pushing it out in transition,” Burton said. “Throughout the whole game, we were all just having a lot of fun and being really unselfish and sharing the ball. We love that type of basketball.”

A large question this offseason was how the Cats would respond to the departures of Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf. Tonight, all concerns were erased by junior forward Courtney Shaw.

After showing flashes in last season’s loss in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Shaw dominated down low in her first career start.

She went 5-for-5 with 11 points in the second quarter and finished the game with 13. In addition to snagging seven rebounds, Shaw blocked three shots, including a monstrous swat in the 13th minute.

“She did an amazing job,” Pulliam said. “(She) gave us great minutes tonight, did all the little things that we needed. Played defense, rebounded, posted hard.”

In addition to an offensive output that saw senior guard Jordan Hamilton and junior guard Sydney Wood score 11 and 14 points, respectively, NU’s ability to lock down on defense was a key aspect of their success.

The Cats gave up only six points in the second quarter at a 15.4 shooting percentage and allowed just one Eastern Illinois player to score in double-digits. Additionally, NU proved proficient at turning turnovers into points, as the squad scored 32 points off of Panther miscues.

Up by as much as 39 in the fourth quarter, McKeown gave playing time to some of his bench players, including the Cats’ three freshmen. Guard Jasmine McWilliams and forward Paige Mott scored their first career baskets, while forward Anna Morris spent five minutes on the hardwood.

“My three freshman are all going to help us,” McKeown said. “I’ve just been really impressed.”

Tonight’s game marked the first time NU has played competitively since falling to Michigan in Indianapolis on Mar. 6. Especially since their original season opener against Bradley was canceled, Burton knows how special it is for NU to get back on the court.

“We’ve been through a lot these past months,” Burton said. “Getting that freedom to be back out there, play our game and just get that sense of normalcy has been really nice.”

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Twitter: @dschott328

Related Stories:
Women’s Basketball: Northwestern announces 2020-21 schedule
Women’s Basketball: Cats look to repeat last year’s success with revamped defense and returning stars
Women’s Basketball: Pulliam named media’s Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year

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