They didn’t make it easy for themselves, but the Northwestern Wildcats kicked off play with a 68-63 win over the Wisconsin Badgers in the first game of the 2018 Women’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Northwestern never trailed during the game, but had to survive a furious fourth quarter comeback by the Badgers after leading by double figures for most of the second half.
Lindsey Pulliam led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, with 18 of those points coming in the first half–where she almost outscored Wisconsin’s entire team. Abi Scheid finished the game with 14 points, nine of which came in the third quarter, to go along with six rebounds.
Meanwhile, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah made her presence felt on both ends of the floor as she finished just one rebound shy of her 19th double-double of the season, tallying 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting along with a game-high nine rebounds. Bry Hopkins also finished in double figures with 11 points.
As a team, the Wildcats shot an impressive 53.1 percent (26-of-49) from the field, while holding the Badgers to just 35.4 percent (23-of-65) on the day. Turnovers were the biggest problem for Northwestern, as the ’Cats turned the ball over 16 times, which ultimately allowed Wisconsin to get back in the game in the final minutes.
Northwestern jumped out to an early lead thanks to some stellar play from Kunaiyi-Akpanah in the first quarter. The Badgers struggled to get anything going with Kunaiyi-Akpanah on the floor as they started the game 1-of-13 from the field.
Wisconsin clawed back and knotted the score 12-12 to start the second quarter. However, Northwestern quickly shut the door on the Badgers’ run as Pulliam began to take over the game, at one point scoring 12 straight points for Northwestern. The first-year helped the Wildcats open up their lead to enter halftime up 31-22.
A strong third quarter helped Northwestern pull ahead even further, leading 53-36. The Wildcats led by as many as 17 points before Wisconsin mounted a furious comeback to cut the lead to as little as two points at one point.
Trailing 66-63 on their final possession of the game, Wisconsin opted to go for a layup with just under two seconds remaining in the game, but Jordan Hamilton jumped in front of Cayla McMorris to take a charge and give the Wildcats the ball back with 1.7 seconds remaining. Hopkins knocked down a pair of free throws to put the game on ice.
With the win, Northwestern advances to the second round of the tournament and will play Iowa tomorrow, with tip-off scheduled for 1:30 pm CST, with Austin Miller and Amit Mallik back on the call.