By: Ben Bokun
After a multitude of close losses during an eight-game skid, Northwestern was able to end the losing streak by completing the season sweep of Illinois with a win on Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats pulled off a 68-61 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini at historic Beardsley Gymnasium in Evanston to end their losing streak. Northwestern beat the Illini twice this season to complete the season sweep, and head coach Joe McKeown was proud of the team for bouncing back after some heartbreaking losses.
“I’m really proud of how they’ve stuck together,” McKeown said. “We had a 12-point lead, 13-point lead at Penn State, and, you know, got kicked in the teeth and bounced back today. So, that says a lot about this team and my staff.”
With two games left in the regular season, the Wildcats needed some momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. Every active player scored for Northwestern during Sunday’s game, which seems like a strong testament to the potential of the young Wildcats basketball team.
The highlighted player for Northwestern today and all season was Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who obtained her 16th double-double of the year with 13 points and 16 rebounds. The whole team was able to chip in with important statistics, and Bryana Hopkins had one of her best games of the season with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
“It’s been hard, you know, a losing streak is hard,” Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. “I think the win is just going to be a momentum builder for us.”
Lindsey Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton did not provide their normal scoring production throughout the game, but Hopkins and Abbie Wolf were among some of the unexpected heroes for the team. Pulliam missed all ten of her shots from the field, and Hamilton scored eight points with a team-leading nine assists.
Northwestern played extremely well on defense throughout the entire game, limiting Illinois to 35 percent shooting. The only player they could not stop was Illinois forward Alex Wittinger, who had a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds. There weren’t many bright spots for the Fighting Illini, and this was exemplified by their foul trouble that allowed Northwestern to attempt 30 free throws.
For the most part, the Wildcats dominated the tempo throughout the game. Illinois gave the ‘Cats a scare at the end of the game when Northwestern was on a short scoring drought, but they were able to fend off Illinois guard Brandi Beasley’s nine-point scoring run in the fourth quarter.
The highlight of the game came when Jordan Hamilton ended an Illinois scoring run with a cross-court pass to Byrdy Galernik who made a wide-open layup with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats will try to carry their momentum with them to Columbus, Ohio for a matchup against Ohio State at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.