By Kevin Sweeney
Editor’s note: Each week, WNUR Sports recaps the news and results from the in-season, non-revenue teams that we cover in order to help our listeners and readers stay connected to the pulse of Northwestern athletics. For men’s basketball coverage, click HERE.
1/8: LOSS at Michigan, 79-78 (OT)
1/13: LOSS vs Purdue, 57-54
With one bounce here and one bounce there, Northwestern women’s basketball could be sitting at 4-1 in Big Ten play. Instead, the Wildcats have had game-winning shots in the closing seconds roll off the rim in back-to-back games to drop a pair of heartbreakers and fall to 2-3 in Big Ten play.
First was a Tuesday night trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan, the type of road win that could have been huge with teams jockeying for position in a hotly-contested Big Ten. It was a back-and-forth affair featuring 12 ties and 18 lead changes in the ballgame. With Abi Scheid knocked out of the game with a leg injury late in the second quarter and star big Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah battling foul trouble, Joe McKeown looked to junior forward Abbie Wolf for a spark. Wolf responded with the finest game of her career, a 17-point, 13-rebound outburst on 8-9 shooting from the field.
With a lead late in regulation, guard Jordan Hamilton missed a pair of free throws to leave the door open for the Wolverines, who scored on a post bucket by freshman Naz Hillmon with 15 seconds to play that would send the game to overtime.
The teams traded leads in overtime until Bryana Hopkins missed a pair of free throws with the Wildcats trailing by one with 41 seconds to go. After a stop at the other end, Northwestern had a chance to win, but Jordan Hamilton’s courageous take to the basket hit every bit of rim before failing to find the back of the net to send the Wildcats home heartbroken.
Northwestern returned home to take on Purdue on Sunday, facing a Boilermaker team that came into the game with a 3-1 mark in Big Ten play. The Wildcats started slow like they have several times this season and really struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm in the first half. Meanwhile, Purdue shot a solid 48 percent from the field in the first half to take a 33-22 lead into the half.
The Wildcats would fight back with a balanced scoring effort led by Lindsey Pulliam’s nine second-half points. Pulliam scored with 17 seconds to play to cut the deficit to just one, and after the Wildcats forced a turnover at the other end, they had a shot to win it. For the second straight game, it was not to be. Pulliam got a good look for a mid-range jumper, but it rimmed out.
The bottom line is this: Northwestern has proven it can play with anyone in the Big Ten. The team’s three conference losses have come by a total of eight points, and the Wildcats have led in the final minute of regulation in two of those games. Still, at some point you have to win close games if you want to compete at the top of the conference. The strong week from Wolf and Pulliam’s bounce-back week after struggling with inefficiency are good signs for the Wildcats.
We’ll see if Northwestern can get over the hump Wednesday night when they take on Indiana in Bloomington. Kevin Sweeney (hey, that’s me!) and Jack Lido will have the call on WNUR Sports!