Women’s Basketball: Five observations from the exhibition win

The Northwestern Women’s Basketball team played in its first unofficial game of the season on Sunday, defeating the University of Missouri-St. Louis 59-40 in an exhibition at Beardsley Gymnasium in Evanston. The game marked the first of many at Beardsley, the team’s home for the season while Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes major renovations. While it was the first game of the season and a simple exhibition against the Division II Tritons, it’s never too early to comment on what we saw from the team. Here are five things that stood out.

Jordan Hamilton is good

This is not the hottest of takes out there. Hamilton came to Northwestern as one of two top 100 recruits for the Wildcats and figures to play a big role over the next four years for Coach McKeown. That said, Hamilton still managed to exceed expectations in Sunday’s exhibition. The freshman drew the start at point guard and produced 12 points on an efficient 5-of-8 shooting along with two assists and five rebounds in 35 minutes.

She even did her best Ashley Deary impression, chipping in three steals on the defensive end. Perhaps most impressive, though, was simply the poise she exhibited on the court. It’s easy to be nervous or overwhelmed by your first game at the collegiate level, especially considering the shoes she has to fill, but Hamilton exuded command and control as she ran the offense. She looks to be as advertised.

The underclassmen were not afraid to shoot the ball

Northwestern’s top four scorers last season:

  1. Nia Coffey, 20.0 ppg
  2. Christen Inman, 11.6 ppg
  3. Ashley Deary, 10.6 ppg
  4. Lauren Douglas, 8.7 ppg

What do the four of them have in common? They all graduated in June, taking with them 74 percent of the team’s points. The Wildcats have several options to replace that production but no clear answers. Senior guard Lydia Rohde is the most experienced player on the roster, but she’s more of a three-point specialist than an on-ball scorer.

Junior forward Amber Jamison is another possibility after making a nice jump from 1.5 points per game in her first season to 4.9 points per game in her second, but her focus needs to be on the defensive end, where she will most likely be tasked with shutting down the best player on the opposing team.

Based on Sunday, two underclassmen in particular are going to be aggressive in trying to put points on the board: sophomore forward Abi Scheid and freshman guard Lindsey Pulliam, who each attempted 14 field goals against UMSL. Neither was particularly sharp, with Scheid making five of her 14 shots and Pulliam – Coach McKeown’s other top 100 recruit – only making two. Both refused to be discouraged, though, and continued to take any and all open shots. Look for these two to lead the team in field goal attempts this season.

Role players from last year showed signs of marked improvement

Based on the scoring numbers from last year, pretty much every returning player on this year’s team was a role player by default in 2016-2017. With last year’s seniors now gone, several of those players are going to have to thrive in larger roles if the team is to be successful. On Sunday, two appeared to have made majors strides in the offseason: sophomore point guard Byrdy Galernik and junior center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah.

Galernik saw very little work last year as the backup to Ashley Deary, playing just 6.3 minutes per game. That number jumped up significantly against UMSL, as Galernik posted 10 points, four assists and only one turnover in 24 minutes of action.

Kunaiyi-Akpanah, meanwhile, made a huge leap in cutting down on her biggest weakness: foul trouble. In her first two seasons, Kunaiyi-Akpanah averaged 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, enough to foul out every game. She got through 20 minutes on the floor with just one foul on Sunday. Considering her solid defensive skills (two blocks Sunday) and remarkable proficiency on the glass (12 rebounds), her ability simply to stay out of foul trouble would go a long way for the Wildcats this season.

The Wildcats need to shoot better as a team

A simple look at the numbers tell the whole story here. Northwestern shot 35.4 percent from the field, and just 27.8 percent from beyond the arc. It was just an exhibition, and the Wildcats still got the win, but those numbers are not going to hold up against Big Ten competition. The Wildcats shot 41.7 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from deep last season, and they look to improve on both of those marks in 2017-18. 

The team played with grit

Once again, this game was just an exhibition against a Division II opponent. It was a game for Northwestern to experiment, tinker, and shake off the rust of the offseason. That said, UMSL opened the game by hitting two three-pointers on their first two shots, while the Wildcats went more than three-and-a-half minutes before finding the bottom of the net.

From there, Northwestern battled with the Tritons for a good 20 minutes before eventually pulling away in the third. It was extremely telling to see the hustle this young team displayed, especially on the defensive end, as they found themselves in a surprisingly close game against a less-talented opponent. Wins do not come easy in the Big Ten, and if the Wildcats want to surpass the eight conference wins they earned in 2016-2017, they’ll have to play hungry each and every night.

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