‘Cats drop regular season finale
By Eli Berk
Northwestern (13-7, 11-7 Big Ten) fell to Michigan in a hard-fought effort Saturday, locking in fifth place in the Big Ten standings. The defense proved to be effective once again, but the season-long offensive struggles continued throughout this matchup. Michigan (14-4, 9-4 Big Ten) capitalized on an excellent effort from senior Akienreh Johnson who posted 19 points and nine rebounds to cement a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Veronica Burton led Northwestern’s effort, dropping 19 points and stripping the ball three times. Courtney Shaw scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in her return to the court after missing the last nine games with a lower-body injury. Lindsey Pulliam played all 40 minutes in her final regular season game, with 11 points and six rebounds.
The ‘Cats started the game slowly, shooting only 3-of-16 from the floor. Two separate scoring droughts in the first quarter proved to be a significant setback for the ‘Cats as they failed to reach double digits. Northwestern shot only 19% from the floor in the first frame, compared to Michigan’s 43%.
Trailing by six heading into the second quarter, the ‘Cats quickly went on a 7-0 run to compete with Michigan’s steady shooting. The scoring for both teams quickly came to a halt as prolonged scoring droughts filled the middle minutes. Both teams turned on the jets for the final stretch of the first half, and Northwestern went into halftime down just five. Only three Wildcats scored in the first half: Burton (11), Pulliam (7) and Shaw (7).
The third-quarter woes continued for the ‘Cats as Michigan quickly took a commanding lead. A 6-0 run out of the gate gave the Wolverines a comfortable double-digit lead through the rest of the frame. Several missed shots from the entire offensive effort, as well as messy fouls, put Northwestern in a deep hole.
All signs pointed to doom for the Wildcats through the fourth quarter until quick scores from Burton and Pulliam narrowed the gap. With the lead as slim as four in the dying minutes, Northwestern carried all the momentum. Michigan found itself amidst a long scoring drought and couldn’t connect on field goals, but the Wolverines compensated from the free throw line, hitting 7-of-12 in the fourth. The ‘Cats missed several late three-point attempts, and they were sent back to Evanston with a five-point loss.
The ‘Cats look ahead to the Big Ten Tournament where they hold the five seed. They await the winner of 12-seeded Illinois and 13-seeded Wisconsin, and a victory presents a rematch against Michigan.