The new Welsh-Ryan Arena already has a game that will go down in history. Northwestern women’s basketball’s home debut could not have gone better as the Wildcats (2-0) obliterated No. 21 Duke (1-1) 84-58.
Northwestern had everything going in a comprehensive dismantling of the Blue Devils. Lindsey Pulliam led the team with 21 points. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah pulled down 17 boards and chipped in 11 of her own. Northwestern hit 8 three-pointers in the game, displaying the offensive firepower that has been missing in previous years. Coach Joe McKeown’s team could not have asked for a better start to the season.
“Felt so good to play here...it was really loud in there, it was a great atmosphere,” McKeown said afterward.
The Wildcats started out red-hot, making its first three shots of the game and jumping out to an 8-2 lead. Duke quickly rallied to make it 8-7, but the Blue Devils offense struggled throughout the remainder of the quarter. Northwestern’s offense was a bit turnover-prone, but the Wildcats ground out another 10 points while shutting down Duke on defense. By the end of the first quarter, it was 18-11 in favor of Northwestern.
Many would have expected Duke to start imposing itself, but the second quarter went about the same as the first. Northwestern’s defense continued to cause nightmares for Duke, allowing the Wildcats to hold a 33-25 lead into the interval despite a 5-of-18 half from Lindsey Pulliam and Abi Scheid.
The third quarter started with a blistering 9-0 run for the Wildcats. Veronica Burton and Scheid hit back-to-back three pointers for Northwestern, followed by a scything drive to the basket from Pulliam for a three-point play. Northwestern found itself up 17, a double-digit advantage it would not surrender for the rest of the afternoon. The Wildcats ended the third quarter with five threes and a commanding 61-46 lead.
Duke played better in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to surmount the Wildcats’ lead. Duke cut the lead to 64-54 with 6 minutes left in the quarter, but that was as close as they’d come to making it a contest. Northwestern was able to restore its advantage behind a couple buckets from Abi Scheid, and the Wildcats cruised to a 26-point win.
“We really tried to get in their grill,” Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah said. Northwestern forced 24 turnovers and threw Duke into problematic situations repeatedly.
Northwestern’s next game will be in November 15 against Illinois-Chicago.