For Northwestern women’s basketball, (9-3, 7-3 B1G) the philosophy for this season remains constant: “Don’t let your offense be your defense.” The phrase, uttered by head coach Joe McKeown over several press conferences, refers to the team’s reliance on their stingy “blizzard” defense to win them games; if you can prevent the other team from scoring, you don’t need to make as many shots.
So when the game turns into an offensive showcase, you know you’re watching something special.
The ’Cats won a shooting showdown for the ages against Iowa (9-4, 5-4 B1G) Thursday afternoon, winning the game 87-80. Scoring their highest point total in conference play this season (and second highest total this season), Northwestern saw insane play from their dynamic backcourt duo: senior guard Lindsey Pulliam led the ’Cats with 27 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range, and junior guard Veronica Burton continued her stellar all-around play with 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Just another hard-fought Big Ten game against a perennial top 25 team,” McKeown said postgame. “Lindsey Pulliam showed why she's one of the best players in college basketball … just made play after play for us when we needed it. Great win.”
In the team victory, the ’Cats saw a whopping four players score double-digit totals: the aforementioned Pulliam and Burton, junior guard Sydney Wood (14) and senior guard Jordan Hamilton (10). First-year center Anna Morris also had a decent game; playing in the continued absence of starting center Courtney Shaw, Morris came off the bench to score eight points, nab two rebounds and a steal to boot.
The high-scoring affair was marked by history on the other side of the court: Iowa junior center Monika Czinano had an insane game of 34 points and 11 rebounds, and started the game a perfect 15-for-15 from the floor, the first in Big Ten history to do so. Iowa was also led by a decent night from first-year guard Caitlin Clark, who scored 23 points and dished eight assists.
“I think not letting other people beat us besides [Czinano] and Clark was important for us,” McKeown said. “We’ve just got to figure out ways to keep throwing a lot of people at some of the post players we're going to face in our league, because there's a lot of them. One thing we did when she did score [is] we came back and scored, and that was really important.”
Although the final point total was sky high, the game started normal enough for Northwestern: Burton pacing the team through rough patches on both ends, and Pulliam shooting nice from her sweet spot. Despite Iowa feeding Czinano through the paint to get guaranteed buckets, Northwestern was able to push through the first half leading 33-29.
Never one to back down, Iowa came out swinging to start the second half, going on a nice 16-2 run to start the quarter, and a 24-8 run over the first five minutes; Iowa’s Clark led the Hawkeyes during this stretch, making an astounding four shots from downtown over five minutes, and 15 points overall. With 4:24 left in the third quarter, Northwestern was down 50-41.
Then, Lindsey Pulliam took over.
The senior guard began shooting with fire, including two deep three-pointers, and helped get Northwestern’s offense clicking again. With stingy defense on the other end from Burton boosting her, Pulliam finally began to shoot like herself again, and paced the ’Cats back into the game; at the end of the third quarter, Northwestern led Iowa, 57-56.
With the season rankings on the line, both teams began to sprint. Iowa opened the quarter on a 8-2 run to take a 5 point lead. Resilient as ever, however, Northwestern’s guard core began to knock down tough layups and fight back against Iowa’s offense with key defensive stops.
After keeping pace through the final frame, Northwestern was finally able to punch through and keep the lead, and a final three-point dagger by Pulliam sealed the deal for the ’Cats. Despite tough spells and historic work from the Iowa offense, Northwestern was able to pull off a tough victory in the Hawkeye State.
The key for the ’Cats this time was the ability to knock down the tough shots down the stretch, something that doomed their chances against Indiana last Sunday; Pulliam finally found her deep shot again, going a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown when the team needed her most. The ’Cats were also able to capitalize on the “defense, not offense” mantra, forcing an outstanding 23 turnovers. Despite going 17-for-34 from the foul line, Northwestern was able to pull out a clutch victory on fantastic guard play and key shots.
“We just play with a lot of poise,” McKeown said. “They put their stamp on it today, Pulliam and Jordan and Veronica and Sydney, I know they hate to lose more than they like to win; I know it's a little cliche, but it shows you. To win on the road in our league, you’ve got to have some toughness, and I think they showed that.”
Northwestern will now return home for perhaps their toughest match of the season: No. 14 Ohio State. If the ’Cats can pull off the win, they’ll be back in the conversation of the top dogs in the conference, and have a statement win as they go to close the season. With the defense finding its routes and key players finding their shots, all eyes will be on the team for this one.
Let’s get ready to rumble.