GO BIG or GO SMALL?
Northwestern (2-1) opened the B1G season with an easy 77-50 victory over Illinois in Champaign. The Illini led 15-14 at the end of the first quarter. Then Northwestern, behind guard Lindsey Pulliam’s 27 points, pulled away. Center Abbie Wolf provided the inside muscle with 18 points and 10 rebounds. It was a nice opener for Joe McKeown’s crew; but, ho-hum, it was their ninth straight win over the hapless Illini.
A few days later, on New Year’s Eve, a true champagne celebration ensued. Northwestern ran B1G favorite, Maryland, out of Welsh-Ryan and into the Evanston night routing the Terps 81-58. Once again, Pulliam led the ‘Cats with 24 points (9 in the first half). In this game she was joined by fellow guard Veronica Burton with 23 points (8 in the first half). Free throws were a story. Northwester was 31-38 from the line aided by Pulliam and Burton combining to go 24-25. Maryland was 18-22 from the charity stripe. From behind the arc, Northwestern was 6-12 while the Terps were 4-18. The ‘Cats jumped on the Terps early taking an 18-6 first quarter lead. Northwestern did similar damage in the third quarter outscoring Brenda Frese’s team 26-13. It was Northwestern’s first win over Maryland.
Now the Anticlimax:
Today, in Evanston, the ‘Cats got the Full Hawkeye. A classic Iowa lock down zone coupled with the Hawkeye’s spread the court, inside/outside, move the ball offense defeated Northwestern 51-77. Northwestern’s zone wasn’t even a slight annoyance to Iowa who were 9-14 bombing threes while the Wildcats were 4-21. Inside, the 6’4” Wolfe, 2 points and 2 rebounds, and 6’2” Scheid, 7 points and 5 rebounds, were no match for the Hawkeyes 6’3” Moniko Czinano, 21 points and 5 rebounds, and 6’1” Amanda Ollinger, 11 points and 12 rebounds. Outside for Northwestern there was only Pulliam, 25 points and Burton with 10.
Of Note: The only Wildcat non-conference loss was to DePaul in Evanston. Northwestern took a 68-65 lead with 1:36 remaining before DePaul rallied to win 70-68.
Last Seasons Games:
Last season Minnesota defeated Northwestern twice. The first match-up in Evanston was a 61-54 Gopher win. And it was notable because, desiring to turn around a 2-7 start to the Gopher season, Lindsay went small ball and used a short rotation. Pitts and Bell played 40 minutes, Brunson 38, Perez 33 and Taiye Bello (limited by foul trouble) 18. Lamke came off the bench for 18 minutes as did Staples 7 and Kaposi 5. Rejuvenated, the Gophers embarked on a six game win streak. Now, following this season’s 1-2 start and Whalen saying in post Nebraska radio interview that we will get more Kehinde there is speculation whether Lindsay will go BIG against the ‘Cat. (Or at least our version of B1G).
Ten days later, in Minneapolis, the small ball lineup prevailed again for a 73-64 Gopher overtime win. The minutes played by the Gophers, obviously, went up: Pitts and Brunson each played 45, Taiye Bello 44, Perez 39 and Bell (limited by foul trouble) 38. Lamke 13 and Kaposi 1, came off the bench.
A big concern for the small ball Gophers going into both contests was how to battle the now graduated, inside beast, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. In game one PKA put up 14 points and 11 rebounds; in game two PKA produced 6 points, 8 rebounds and 8 turnovers. Of course, it was the Minnesota’s guards time to shine. In Welsh-Ryan it was Pitts with 19 points, Bell 17 and Brunson 14. In Williams it was Bell with 24 points, Pitts 21 and Brunson with another 14.
As has become all too familiar, the overtime game in Williams featured a late Northwestern run in regulation. Minnesota led 54-49 with 5:10 remaining in the fourth. Then we watched the Wildcats spurt to the lead with a 9-0 run. However, the Gophers rallied and Bell’s layup tied the game with 8 seconds to go. Four seconds later, Northwestern’s Abi Scheid was fouled, went to the line, and stunningly clanked both free throws. In OT Minnesota regained control for a nine point win. It was the Gophers fourth straight win over Northwestern. The last loss to the Wildcats was in the B1G tournament in 2016.
Like Minnesota, Northwestern finished 9-9 in the B1G last season and accepted the WNIT invite. Unlike the Gophers, The ‘Cats battled their way to the championship game losing to the Arizona Wildcats 42-56 in Tucson.
The starting lineup has been consistent: Pulliam, Scheid, Veronica Burton, Abbie Wolf and Sydney Wood. Joe McKeown has not dipped deeply into the bench.
Probable Starters (B1G Stats):
The Bench (B1G Stats):