By Ben Moskow
Holy Toledo! In true Wildcat fashion, Northwestern women’s basketball (18-14, 9-9 B1G) overcame a 16-point late-game deficit to beat the Toledo Rockets (21-12, 11-7 MAC) on Sunday. Northwestern shot just 32.7% from the field and only recorded six assists, but some timely baskets and aggressive defense propelled the ‘Cats to victory.
Northwestern had trouble with Toledo’s stifling defense early on, managing just four points in the first quarter on 1-of-11 shooting. The Wildcats trimmed the deficit to one in the second quarter but found themselves down 29-20 at the half.
Toledo came out firing after the break, taking advantage of forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s foul trouble to open up a 16-point lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter. At the height of the deficit, star guard Lindsey Pulliam was seen yelling at her teammates to fire them up.
Whatever Pulliam said to the team, it seemed to work wonders. The Wildcats came storming back, scoring 18 unanswered and retaking the lead with 8:23 to go in the fourth quarter. During the 6-minute blitz, Toledo’s offense looked downright inept, coughing up the ball six times and misfiring on every shot imaginable. Northwestern recorded a whopping 14 steals on the afternoon, including nine in the second half.
From then on, the ‘Cats never looked back. Some clutch free-throw shooting from Pulliam and Veronica Burton sealed the deal for Northwestern. They shot 19-of-25 from the line on the afternoon, good for 76 percent. Converting on second opportunities was also crucial to the comeback, as Northwestern put up 15 second-chance points to Toledo’s four.
Pulliam scored her 1,000th career point on a putback layup midway through the 18-0 run to become the youngest to ever reach the milestone in a Northwestern uniform. Pulliam played every minute of the victory and led the ‘Cats with 17 points, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
As Kunaiyi-Akpanah battled foul trouble, center Abbie Wolf played a pivotal role as a replacement. Nine of her 11 points came in the second half, and she also recorded three steals. Wolf’s post game has shown tremendous improvement, an encouraging sign for Coach Joe McKeown as he looks to replace Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s production next season.
Northwestern will advance to the WNIT Sweet Sixteen, where they will face West Virginia (22-10, 11-7 Big 12) at the WVU Coliseum on Wednesday, March 27. Make sure to tune into WNUR Sports at 6 p.m. Central, as Amit Mallik brings you all the action.