In its first game in Evanston Township High School, Northwestern women’s basketball (2-0) earned an 88-70 win over Oakland (1-2) behind a career day from Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who ended the game with 27 points and 21 rebounds. The Wildcats started off quickly, opening a 25-12 lead in the first quarter and leading by 20 in third. However, Northwestern’s lead fell to 7 points midway through the fourth quarter, but Kunaiyi-Akpanah rallied the team to an emphatic 88-70 win over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
“That was a special performance,” head coach Joe McKeown said.
However, there were also important storylines from off the court. Prior to the game, a team spokesperson announced junior guard Amber Jamison has taken a leave of absence from the school. Also, Northwestern associate head coach Christie Sides had resigned prior to the season to pursue professional coaching opportunities. Sides had just been promoted from assistant to associate head coach in the spring. Both pieces of news came as a surprise.
Despite this news, Northwestern stepped on the gas pedal from the tip. The game started with an 11-5 Northwestern run that Oakland never recovered from. A balanced scoring effort put Northwestern up 25-12 after the first.
By the end of the first, Kunaiyi-Akpanah was feeling it, scoring 8 points in a row for the Wildcats between the end of the first and the start of the second quarter. The Golden Grizzlies were unable to mount much resistance defensively as Northwestern raced to 49 points in the first half. The Wildcats would shoot 54.8 percent from the field in the game. With Kunaiyi-Akpanah out-rebounding the entire Oakland squad, the game seemed to be well in hand.
However, Northwestern’s dominant first-half offense slowed in the second half. The Wildcats opened the lead to 20 points after two Oceana Hamilton free throws with 3:05 remaining, but then Oakland went on a 13-3 run to close out the third quarter. Northwestern’s offense was still scraping for points in the fourth. Nothing was working, save for handing the ball in the post to Kunaiyi-Akpanah. But the junior delivered, eventually ending the game with 21 points and 27 boards (6 offensive, 15 defensive). Northwestern closed out the game behind her rebounding and scoring, and the Wildcats won by 18.
It was a good win for the Wildcats, but the loss of a key rotation piece for the season will be detrimental going forward. After the game, Abi Scheid and Coach McKeown both said they would miss Jamison’s energy on and off the court. McKeown also praised the advice new assistant and former Northwestern forward Kate Popovec had given Kunaiyi-Akpanah during the offseason. Popovec and recently hired assistant Tasha Pointer have apparently assumed some of Sides’ extensive duties on the team.
Overall, Northwestern played really well. The Wildcats struggled dealing with Oakland’s pace defensively, but if they can keep scoring 44 points in the paint, the offense should be good enough to hang on.
Northwestern’s next game is November 18th at UT-Martin.