Women’s Basketball: Cats take down Illinois-Chicago 72-49 in season opener


Gabe Bider/The Daily Northwestern

Senior guard Veronica Burton drives down the court. Burton put up 22 points in the Cats’ win against Illinois-Chicago on Wednesday.

Charlotte Varnes, Development and Recruitment Editor

Women’s Basketball

Northwestern soundly defeated Illinois-Chicago 72-49 in its season opener Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. 

The Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) never gave up the lead to the Flames (0-1, 0-0), even after overcoming close calls in the first quarter, surging to victory. Senior guard Veronica Burton led the way for NU, notching 22 points, six assists and five rebounds. Beyond the team captain, several different players contributed offensively, with seven Cats scoring at least five or more points.

“It was a team effort,” coach Joe McKeown said of the win. “We loosened up. We struggled a bit (with) shooting early in the first half … and then (we) started to get out in transition, we hit a couple big shots. We’re streaky right now, like most teams in college basketball.”

NU opened the game on a 7-0 run and held the Flames scoreless through nearly the first four minutes. But UIC clawed back, narrowing the deficit to one point with less than two minutes left in the first quarter.

From there, however, the Cats’ offense kicked into gear. They closed out the first quarter on a 5-0 Burton run and held the Flames scoreless for the first four and a half minutes of the second quarter.

Senior forward Courtney Shaw said honing in on defense powered the team’s offensive break, calling it the “backbone” of the team’s play.

“We always talk about how our offense starts with our defense,” Shaw said. “We focus on our defense, intensity and how that sets the tone for the rest of the game.”

By the end of the first half, the Cats cemented their control. NU outscored UIC 18-8 during the second quarter and also improved its efficiency, going 7-for-15 from the field during the second compared to 5-for-16 in the first. Burton also added a buzzer-beater to end the half, setting the tone for the rest of the matchup.


NU’s second half was a team effort, with eight different players, including three freshmen, getting on the board.

McKeown said he’s been especially impressed with the freshmen. He said there’s a reason they were “highly rated” as recruits — they make the team better both on and off the court.

Burton agreed with the sentiment, saying the freshmen each bring different talents to the team.

“They all have such unique skill sets,” Burton said. “But with more and more reps they get and (that) we all get as a team together, I can tell we’re getting more comfortable with one another, and they’re getting more comfortable with experience.”

Even though several freshmen contributed on Wednesday, the Cats’ senior players anchored the team. Burton led in points, and Shaw and senior guard/forward Sydney Wood notched 12 and nine rebounds, respectively.

McKeown credited NU’s senior leaders with taking the freshmen under their wing and helping them adjust to college life.

“They’re doing a great job helping our young players understand life as a freshman at Northwestern — when to get to the bus, where to eat, study halls, everything that comes with it,” McKeown said. 

Wednesday’s game also marked the first regular-season game with fans in attendance since Feb. 29, 2020. McKeown said he loved the fans’ energy, and that the game environment was especially fun considering it was a weeknight.

Among the attendees was alumna Lindsey Pulliam, who was drafted by the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream in April and now plays professionally in Turkey for Elazığ İl Özel İdarespor. Burton said the Cats’ faces “lit up” when they saw Pulliam in the stands — it meant a lot to the team to have her back.

Now, NU turns its attention to Sunday’s matchup against UC Santa Barbara. The Cats will tip off against the Gauchos at Welsh-Ryan at 1 p.m. in what McKeown said will be an enjoyable matchup against a competitive program.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

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