By Jack Lido
School is out in Evanston for winter break, but for the Northwestern Wildcats, class was in session today. In front of a few hundred kids on field trip day, Lindsey Pulliam was the professor of pull up jumpers, Veronica Burton lectured on lighting up the stat sheet, and Joe McKeown delivered an impassioned dialogue on defense, which his ‘Cats executed to perfection.
From the minute the bell rang, the ‘Cats were off and running, starting the game on a 10-0 run before ending the first period up by 18. The Wildcats (8-1, 0-0) never tapped the breaks, cruising past the Mavericks of UT Arlington (5-4) 74-47 on Monday afternoon.
Northwestern came into the game ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense and field goal percentage; but their offense moved efficiently and the ball found its way into the basket 48% of the time, nearly six points higher than their season average. The ‘Cats did so despite making only 11 layups and shooting two jumpers in the paint. Even though bigs Abbie Wolf and Courtney Shaw couldn’t get going, hot shooting from behind the arc was on display at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Northwestern made 11 three pointers, a season high, at a blistering 44% clip. The ‘Cats were remarkably efficient from deep, even more impressive considering they also showed out in their last game against Dartmouth. Northwestern will be happy to take that momentum into West Palm Beach for their final two non-conference games of the year.
On the defensive end, Coach McKeown’s patented “blizzard” defense froze the Mavs, a normally proficient offense that averages 66.6 points per game. UTA put 67 on the scoreboard in a neutral-court loss to the currently no. 6 Louisville Cardinals, and scored 54 in a blowout loss to no. 3 Oregon. The Sun Belt stalwarts should not be underestimated, and the ‘Cats had a tight grip on them throughout the game, holding the Mavs to 47 points on 17 of 54 shooting.
UT-Arlington may not reside in a high-major conference, but they presented a formidable test for Northwestern. Coming into the game, UTA ranked 81st in RPI, in front of four Big Ten teams. Misty Dossey, at 6-5, would fit right in, size-wise, with Big Ten post players. Northwestern held her to six points and four rebounds. Northwestern was definitely not perfect in the interior though, letting forward Marie Benson rack up 16 points and eight rebounds.
Nearing conference play, the most intriguing storyline for Northwestern may be their own big, Abbie Wolf. She was a fearsome defender, but was held to only two points on 1-5 shooting. Thankfully, Northwestern more than made up for it with their outside shooting; it’s great to see Northwestern’s shooters making up for an off night for Wolf, on the flip side though, Wolf, along with Shaw, should be prepared for a day where they have the make up for an off night for Northwestern shooters.
But speaking of Northwestern shooters, let’s take a moment to commend them! Analytics junkies should be nervous about their efficiency, but Northwestern fans should be excited to ride this train as long as it keeps going. The fuel for the train is swishes from Wildcats: Lindsey Pulliam shot 40% from the field today, and has made 24 of her last 50 shot attempts dating back to the win against Boston College. Veronica Burton tallied 13 points on a season-best 3-5 attempts from deep. Abi Scheid was efficient inside and out, draining 3 triples and shooting .500 overall from the field; she’s also been on fire in her last three games, going 13 of 28 since the BC game, good for a .464 clip.
The Wildcats should celebrate another non-conference win against a formidable opponent, especially having done so in such dominant fashion. While there’s still plenty of basketball to be played, Northwestern continues to build its resume and position itself for a potential NCAA Tournament bid. Unfortunately, they don’t have much to gain in West Palm Beach, with games against 3-6 East Carolina and 1-8 Xavier, but they have plenty to lose should they slip up against these low-level teams outside of the top 250 in RPI.