Junior guard Veronica Burton (center) gets high fives from her teammates after a free throw. Burton helped the 'Cats with a stellar performance against Minnesota Monday night, scoring 20 points. Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

The last time Northwestern women’s basketball (2-0, 1-0 B1G) met Minnesota (1-3, 0-2 B1G), the ‘Cats just barely pulled off a nail-biting win. Minnesota’s Jasmine Brunson sank a three for the Gophers to tie the game 54-54 with four seconds left, but Northwestern answered just as quickly. Junior guard Veronica Burton passed to senior guard Lindsey Pulliam for a layup as the clock expired, ending the game 56-54 with a victory for the ‘Cats. This year’s matchup could not have been more different as Northwestern took the lead 25-14 in the first 10 minutes and never looked back.  

Standing on last year’s Big Ten title, Northwestern returned to conference play with extra confidence as they crushed the Gophers 80-51. While critics may have wondered whether the loss of key senior starters would affect the team’s chemistry this season, the sheer dominance the Wildcats showed in their first Big Ten game seems to argue otherwise.

Northwestern took over from tip-off, grabbing 17 unanswered points in the first five minutes and finishing the first quarter 25-14. As the Wildcats found their rhythm, they were equally blocking Minnesota’s, forcing five turnovers and five missed shots in the first quarter alone.

“We talked about how Minnesota sometimes doesn’t always start the game out strong, so that was definitely a huge focus for us coming in,” Burton said. “Just taking advantage of that and getting the good shots we wanted early on and just kind of running with it.”

Burton, last season’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the year, took control of the court from the beginning. The junior guard shot with 100% accuracy in the first half, leading the team with 16 points and 5 assists at the half. She led Northwestern’s defense and helped force 13 turnovers in the first two quarters, helping send the ‘Cats to the locker room with a 43-28 lead.

“It has a lot to do with our chemistry and how well we know each other,” Burton said. “I know what each person on the court wants to do, and they know what I want to do.”

Northwestern’s defense remained in sync, suffocating the Gophers in the second half. They shut out any attempt from Minnesota to minimize the 20-point deficit and finished the game with 21 turnovers. Minnesota was only able to shoot 32% from the floor, as Northwestern’s defensive pressure caused the Gophers to miss 41 total shots.

A team with a lot of star potential, the Wildcats had a couple career nights as four players scored in double digits. Burton earned a double double, ending the game with 20 points and 10 assists, and sophomore Sydney Wood was right behind her with 19 points and eight rebounds. Pulliam, Northwestern’s star guard and the 2020-2021 preseason’s Big Ten Player of the Year, continued to make plays for her teammates all night, finishing the game with 13 points as well.

Minnesota was led in scoring by sophomore guard Jasmine Powell, who had 15 points and seven assists, and redshirt sophomore forward Kadi Sissoko, who had 14 points and nine rebounds. The Gophers fought back on offense but were unable to hold on to the ball long enough to close Northwestern’s consistent lead.

Northwestern's 28 assists to 32 scored baskets have shown that chemistry and teamwork seem to be the secret to this season’s playbook. Coach Joe McKeown has emphasized the leadership he has seen from his upperclassman and the entire team’s willingness to work together.

“We really embrace being unselfish,” McKeown said. “When you have players who are All-Big Ten and have so many accolades, for them to swallow their egos, it makes it a special team to coach.”

Northwestern’s next game is set for Thursday, Dec. 17, against Purdue (3-1, 0-0 B1G). The Boilermakers are coming in with a slightly better record than the Gophers, but Tuesday’s dominating conference win makes it hard to pick against the ‘Cats.

Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics