How One WNIT Play Epitomizes the Career of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah
By Jack Lido
Pallas Kunayi-Akpanah will forever go down in Northwestern Women’s basketball lore. Beyond etching her name in the team’s record book with more than 1,000 career rebounds, she leads by example, has outstanding hustle up and down the court, and by all accounts is a fantastic young person.
Tonight, Northwestern faces Arizona in the WNIT Finals, which will be the last game Pallas plays in the purple and white. Regardless of the outcome, she will always be remembered as one of the most entertaining Wildcats to watch.
Here is my favorite play of hers, and it’s a pretty recent one. For some reason, it hasn’t been getting any attention, probably due to the fact that it isn’t a late-game shot, or even a shot at all. This is a defensive play at the end of the 3rd quarter in the first round of the WNIT. Watch it for yourself, then we’ll take a closer look.
Upon first watching this play live, I immediately was reminded of another impressive play in college basketball. While Pallas’ block looked remarkably Zion-esque, it didn’t get nearly as much attention, (it may have helped Zion Williamson to be on ESPN, while Pallas was on the BTN2Go Stream).
But back to the play. Kunayi-Akpanah is guarding forward Jordan Wilmoth in the post, but when Jenna Giacone delivers a bounce pass in the corner to Kyla Whitehead, everyone on the court turns their attention to the wide-open shooter. By the time the ball is on its way over to Whitehead, Pallas is on the run. She puts her trust in junior forward Abi Scheid to switch onto Wilmoth while she goes for the kill.
Pallas goes from standing still to top speed and back in about two seconds. She knows Whitehead is going to have to ball, but she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with it. This is what is special about the play. As Pallas slows down, she extends her arms out, expanding her ridiculous wingspan. This way, an entry pass from Whitehead would most likely be tipped away, part of the reason her 1.8 steals per game ranks fifth in the conference (and why Northwestern as a team ranks 45th in steals per game in the country).
She also sets a base with bent knees in case Whitehead drives baseline. Up until this point, Whitehead has only shot 11 threes on the year, so even with a little bit of space she might not want to let it fly. However, Whitehead does make the decision to dial up a three, so Pallas elevates out of her base. It’s hard to eyeball how far away Pallas actually is, but we get a good look at Whitehead’s shoe. I estimate we could fit approximately four shoes in between the shooter and Pallas, which I’ll approximate to be around four feet (Whitehead is 6-2).
Okay, time for the fun part. Pallas elevates to block Whitehead’s shot; she may no have gotten her whole hand on the ball, but it actually helps her, as instead of flinging the ball out of bounds, it lands into the arms of Schied. On her initial descent, Pallas somehow has the body control to shimmy away from contact and stay away from crashing into the Dayton bench.
And in true Pallas fashion, she gets right back up to run across half court and get into her offensive set.
In case you want to see it again, here it is:
Perhaps this play is a microcosm of Pallas’s most impressive qualities as a player. An instinctive, high-energy defender with athleticism Welsh-Ryan Arena isn’t likely to see for a long time. Those instincts and natural athleticism also allow her to dominate on the glass.
“She’s the best rebounder in the Big Ten,” head coach Joe McKeown said after the Final Four win against Ohio. “You have to have her in the game.”
That’s all I wanted to talk about. Just one of many awesome plays in the legendary career of Pallas Kunayi-Akpanah. Let’s hope the national audience watching the WNIT Championship on CBS Sports Network can catch a glimpse of what Northwestern fans have seen for years. You can alos listen to WNUR 89.3 FM for the call at 2 p.m. Central Time on Sunday, where we’ll do the same thing we’ve been doing for the last four years: tell you about great play after great play by one of our favorite Wildcats.
No matter what happens, thanks for the memories, Pallas.