On Feb. 20, 2020, Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam made a bold statement: she, along with Veronica Burton, made up the “best backcourt in the Big Ten.” With Pulliam making shots across the floor and Burton making unbelievable stops on defense, the two helped pace the 2020 ’Cats to a regular season Big Ten title and a place in history.
One year later, the “best backcourt” may just have gotten better.
The two guards helped pace Northwestern’s (8-2, 6-2 B1G) 73-54 domination of Illinois (2-7, 0-6 B1G) Thursday night, with the senior guard Pulliam posting 28 points and junior guard Burton working the incredible stat line of 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and a whopping seven steals, good for her career-high.
“Burton played tonight without a turnover, I think seven steals, and just dictated our defense. She does not care whether she scores a point or she scores 20 points, she just wants to win,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said. “That's what makes her and Lindsay special: it's not about them, it's about our team … You don't find that a lot in college basketball, to have two players that are that unselfish … [and] being unselfish gives us the best chance to win.”
Also making key plays for the ’Cats were junior guard Sydney Wood, who scored 10 points and four rebounds, and junior center Courtney Shaw, who grabbed 11 rebounds in the win. Junior guard Lauryn Satterwhite also saw game action, including two deep three-pointers in the corner to help the ’Cats extend their lead.
“I've been working on those shots pretty much every day,” Satterwhite said. “And so for me to go in, twice, made me really happy, and just having the support of my teammates pumping me up and giving me the confidence to shoot the ball … it meant a lot, and I'm just happy I did my job and knocked down shots.”
Illinois was led in their effort by sophomore forward Kennedi Myles, who scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and sophomore guard Jeanae Terry, who scored 11 and also nabbed eight.
Like many recent ’Cats’ games, however, the game started slowly offensively. Through the first six minutes, Northwestern was only able to score 6 points, possibly spelling doom down the stretch. Burton, however, took the game into her own hands and was able to clamp the Illini down defensively and run the point to more offense, scoring 4 points and nabbing two rebounds and a steal to buoy the ’Cats.
“I didn't invent this, but don't let your offense be your defense, and I think that resonates with our team,” McKeown said. “What that means, basically, if you miss a shot, don't try to get it back. You'll get down the other end and stop them. I think our players buy into that ... That's one of the things that we talk about, don't let your offense be your defense. You know, the offense will catch up.”
Through the second quarter, Wood picked up the slack and was able to control play across the floor, with fantastic defense, great shooting and ball ability to boot.
Through this dominance, the ’Cats were able to take a massive lead into the half, doubling up Illinois 30-15. Unfortunately, Northwestern was not able to replicate their success right away in the third and allowed the Illini to claw back early in the third, going 5-for-7 shooting and cutting the lead to just 39-30.
That’s when Lindsey Pulliam found her shot and took over, dominating the court to score an astounding 19 points, leading all scorers and making shots from all over the floor. After the Illinois scoring burst, Pulliam scored 10 of 12 points to dominate the orange and blue, and the ’Cats capitalized on the performance, going into the final frame leading 56-35. The rest of the game was a cakewalk, and Northwestern secured their fourth straight win.
“I'll just be aggressive, keep shooting the basketball and do what my team needed me to do,” Pulliam said after the game. “It just so happened that they needed me to step up and score, and that's what I did.”
One key point for the ’Cats continues to be the fantastic defense and all-around play of Veronica Burton, whose stat line led Northwestern in steals and assists. The team also saw the re-emergence of Lindsey Pulliam as their leading scorer, as she was almost automatic around the free throw line. The team will likely continue to rely on her as they get into tougher games, especially to make key shots down the stretch.
“I feel like I haven't I haven't played to my full potential yet this season until today, and I still think that I can be better than what I did today,” Pulliam said. “So just seeing those go in the basket and feeling like I'm back to myself, it's just big going into Sunday.”
Northwestern will face one of their toughest opponents of the year on Sunday, playing No. 16 Indiana (8-3, 6-1 B1G). If the ’Cats can continue their fantastic play, they should see a jump back into the top 20 for the AP and perhaps cement themselves once more as a top dog in the conference.
But with the best backcourt in the Big Ten, it’s hard to argue they ever left the post.