By John Volk
For the second straight season, Northwestern Women’s Basketball opened its season with an exhibition showdown against Lewis University, a Division II school out of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. For the second straight season, Northwestern Women’s Basketball grabbed a win over the Flyers.
This year, however, the game was a little more difficult to watch. With the Wildcats taking the win 89-34, the 55-point margin of victory puts last year’s 15-point margin in perspective. You couldn’t help but feel bad to watch.
Nevertheless, watch we did. Here are the most important things we learned from the team’s performance against Lewis.
The depth at guard is very real
In a game that saw presumed starter Jordan Hamilton sit out with an unknown injury, it was hard to notice that the backcourt wasn’t at full strength. While discouraging to see the junior guard, one of the team’s most reliable distributors and defenders from last season, sidelined after dealing with injuries last February, it was encouraging to see that there is ample depth if her injury concerns persist to start the season.
Sophomore Sydney Wood got the start in Hamilton’s place and went on to pace the team in minutes played with 24, time on the court she used to showcase her speed and efficiency on the attack. Wood went a perfect 6/6 from the floor which she turned into 15 points, tied for the team lead. She also added 6 defensive rebounds and 4 assists to lead the team and tie for the team lead respectively, proving to be a worthy replacement for Hamilton. Wood has the speed and vision to make the drives to the basket, routinely blowing past Lewis defenders for the layup, but she needs to develop a shot from behind the arc if she wants to challenge for a starting spot.
Meanwhile, senior Byrdy Galernik was deadly from three, draining 4/4 from deep to tie Wood and Lindsey Pulliam for the honor of being the team’s leading scorer with 15. Coach Joe McKeown noted post-game that she has been shooting well in practice and it showed: every time she pulled up from range the entire building seemed to know it was going in.
This combination of Wood and Galernik coming off the bench in the guard spot, at least for now, gives the Wildcats two reliable role players with Wood able to make the physical play on offense and clamp down on defense while Galernik will gash you from the perimeter. Of course, it will be different against Big Ten opponents, but signs so far are positive.
(Mostly) Same story for Lindsey Pulliam
It is worth noting we saw the same sort of stuff from junior Lindsey Pulliam, a member of last year’s First Team All-Big Ten squad. That is to say, top production with low efficiency. After getting off to a slow start, hitting on just 1/5 through the first quarter, she found her stride in the second quarter, hitting on her only three of the night then forcing a turnover and scoring again on the next possession, noticeably pleased with herself. She was unable to ride this pace for the rest of the night, however, finishing 7/15 from the floor and only 1/4 from three to net a 15-point performance. Like you’ve heard a thousand times, if Pulliam can improve her shot selection and add some efficiency into her scoring, her game will truly take the next step.
While she is known as a star on offense, one of the best signs for Northwestern tonight was Pulliam’s play on defense, seemingly always ready to get her body on whichever Lewis player had the ball and to seek out the defensive rebound. If she can grow even further on defense, an already-scary Pulliam gets much scarier.
Tough night for Veronica Burton
After connecting on a three to open scoring in the first quarter, it looked like Veronica Burton was on pace for a game like so many we saw last season. Those would her only points besides one on a trip to the free throw line, however, as from there she proceeded to miss on her next five shots from beyond the arc. Another presumed starter, you have to assume this was a statistical anomaly. That said, the backcourt depth alluded to early allows Joe McKeown the flexibility to take a struggling shooter off the floor if necessary.
Abbie Wolf is very tall
Mostly playing behind Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, the lone senior lost from last year’s squad, Wolf stepped firmly into the center role, pacing the team in total rebounds with 7 while only playing 18 minutes. The 6’4” Wolf will figure to maintain that role throughout the season, presumably the anchor in the middle for Northwestern now. While the Big Ten competition will be larger than Lewis, her size in the middle will be key for the Wildcats in running their defense and in making sure to get quality distribution on offense. Filling this role is huge now, especially with Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s talents no longer on the roster.
No I in Team
With Kunaiyi-Akpanah the only senior lost last year, it was clear that continuity made for a clear and excited leadership structure on the team. The loudest cheers of the night came from the Northwestern bench after first-year guard Kaylah Rainey checked into the game and quickly drew a foul. When Laya Hartman connected on a mid-range shot in traffic late in the fourth, Pulliam shot up from her seat and nearly fell over backwards dancing. This team is going to be fun to watch (and listen to).
The Wildcats open non-conference play at home this Sunday versus Loyola-Maryland at 3:30 p.m. CT. You can listen to the game on WNUR Sports.