Rapid Recap: No. 5 Northwestern 67, No. 12 Illinois 42

Lindsey+Pulliam+drives+to+the+basket.+The+senior+guard+scored+21+points+in+Northwestern%27s+win+over+Illinois.+

Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Lindsey Pulliam drives to the basket. The senior guard scored 21 points in Northwestern’s win over Illinois.

Drew Schott, Web Editor


Women’s Basketball


In the regular season, Northwestern defeated Illinois twice: 73-54 in Evanston on Jan. 21 and 67-61 in Champaign on Feb. 24.

Today in Indianapolis, the Wildcats added another victory over their in-state rival.

Behind 21 points from senior guard Lindsey Pulliam, 15 points from junior guard Veronica Burton and a strong defensive effort that allowed only two points in the second quarter and forced 23 turnovers, No. 5 NU defeated the No. 12 Fighting Illini 67-42 in its opening game of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Cats’ victory sets up a clash with No. 4 Michigan tomorrow.

Both teams started off cold from the field, with Northwestern missing nine of its first 11 shots and Illinois misfiring on eight of its first nine.

The score was tied at two apiece for more than three minutes, but junior forward Courtney Shaw helped break the tie with two layups. Then, the Cats started to heat up from the field.

Shaw, senior guard Jordan Hamilton and junior guard Sydney Wood make baskets to push NU into double-digits. The Cats then finished the first quarter on an 8-0 run in the final two-and-a-half minutes to take an 18-6 lead at the break. Despite shooting nine-for-21 over 10 minutes, five players found the basket, with Shaw leading all scorers with six points.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini continued to struggle, committing seven turnovers and only making two of its final 12 shots during that period.

NU notched six straight points to start the second quarter, marking a 17-0 scoring run that stretched from late in the first quarter to midway through the second. During the run, Burton nailed the Cats’ first 3-pointer of the game.

Illinois eventually scored its first point of the quarter — a free throw from Jada Peebles — with just under five minutes remaining in the half.

The Cats then rattled off 11 points, allowing only one more free throw from the Fighting Illini, to take an utterly commanding 38-8 lead into halftime. NU outscored Illinois 20-2 over the period and forced their in-state rivals to go 0-for-11 from the field. And the Cats forced eight more turnovers. Offensively, Burton scored 12 points over 20 minutes, while Pulliam added eight.

Illinois started the third quarter off strong, scoring 16 points in five minutes. The squad eventually scored 25 after 10 minutes. However, Pulliam and Wood kept NU’s big lead intact, scoring 11 and four points, respectively, to give the Cats a 53-33 lead heading into the final frame.

The Cats continued to rack up baskets and hold the Fighting Illini offense in check on the way to its first postseason victory of 2021.

Takeaways:

1. Balanced scoring attack leads the way for Northwestern.
Heading into today’s game, three Wildcats — Burton, Pulliam and Wood — averaged double-digit point totals. Against the Big Ten’s seventh-best scoring defense, the three starters led the way. Wood continued to show her strength of finding scoring opportunities in the paint, Pulliam found her jumpshot and Burton scored quick in transition and nailed two 3-pointers. After 40 minutes, Pulliam finished with 21 points, Burton with 15 and Wood with 10. Shaw also added six points and Hamilton contributed seven. A dynamic offensive unit firing on all cylinders could be the key for NU beating Michigan for the first time this season.

2. Pulliam finds her shot.
In one of the Cats’ biggest games of the season, Pulliam rose to the occasion. The senior guard led the way for NU in its first game of the postseason, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds. She topped the 20-point total for the first time since a Feb. 17 matchup against Nebraska and demonstrated her skillset as one of the top scorers in the Big Ten. Pulliam scored from all across the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and made some impressive shots such as her step-back three-pointer from the top of the key in the third quarter. The Maryland native is currently 23 points away from reaching 2,000 and is already seen as one of the best scorers in program history.

3. For the second time in three games, the Wildcats will face No. 4 Michigan.
The Cats have struggled against the Wolverines this season, falling 84-63 in January during a nationally-televised matchup and 63-58 last week in Ann Arbor. Additionally, the Wolverines upset NU last season in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament following its first Big Ten title in 30 years. A postseason victory against the Wolverines — who are currently ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25 — would not only provide one of the Cats’ best wins of the season, but also a huge momentum boost for the rest of the conference tournament, and potentially the NCAA Tournament.

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Twitter: @dschott328

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