By Ben Moskow
Northwestern Women’s Basketball (15-12, 8-8 B1G) could not keep up with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-14, 8-8 B1G) at home Thursday, losing 71-64. The Wildcats cut a 20-point deficit to three in the fourth quarter, but they failed to put the finishing touches on what would have been an improbable comeback.
Guard Lindsey Pulliam was dialed in early on in Welsh-Ryan Arena, sinking three jumpers to keep it close in the first quarter. But she went just 2-16 in the last three quarters, with several shots going in-and-out as the deficit increased.
Defensively, the Wildcats did not look like the gritty squad that gives up the fewest points per game in the Big Ten. Five-foot-nine Cornhusker guard Hannah Whitish consistently burned the ‘Cats from three-point range, with 15 of her 19 points coming from beyond the arc. Her ability to facilitate the offense led to the Cornhuskers shooting a blistering 10-18 from three on the night.
Open shooters and cutters were aplenty for Nebraska as they opened up a twenty-point lead with 8:33 left in the third quarter. Northwestern then went on a 10-0 run to pull within ten but some timely shots from Whitish and forward Maddie Simon (who was a perfect 6-6 from the field on the night) increased the Cornhusker lead to 16 with one quarter to play.
That’s when Northwestern forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah went to work. Despite playing with four fouls for the entire fourth quarter, she led Northwestern on a 14-0 run to cut a 17-point lead to three with 4:53 left to play. Three points was the closest the Wildcats would get, however, as they shot just 1-14 from that point on. Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s monster quarter was a silver lining in a frustrating loss, as she finally solved the defense of Nebraska center Kate Cain en route to eight points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in the final ten minutes.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah was three rebounds shy of 1,000 for her Northwestern career coming into Thursday night. Sure enough, she grabbed number 1,000 in the third quarter, joining former top-five WNBA draft pick Nia Coffey as the only two players ever to do so for Northwestern. Her defense and hustle on every 50-50 ball was instrumental in getting the Wildcats back into the game.
After her big accomplishment, Coach Joe McKeown lauded Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s work ethic and desire to rebound the basketball.
“There’s nobody like her I’ve ever seen. I’m really proud of her,” he said.
Northwestern will look to continue their push for the postseason at home against Indiana on Tuesday, February 27, their last home game of the season.