Despite scuffling for the first 37 minutes, Northwestern (4-0) turned it on when it counted for the second time in this young season, willing themselves past Florida (0-4) in overtime Sunday afternoon in Gainesville.
With three minutes to go, a bad loss for Northwestern looked like a foregone conclusion. The Gators, who led after every quarter, had carried a six-point advantage into the fourth, and thanks in large part to two huge threes from Nakkasoglu (56 percent on the year) the lead was up to 11 with three minutes to go.
But despite going just 1-of-3 from the line and not hitting a single three over their ensuing 11-0 run, an Abi Scheid three-point play was followed by midrange jumpers from Hamilton and Pulliam, all within a minute of game time, to tie the game at 70.
Florida wouldn’t go away: freshman Kristina Moore retook the lead on a layup with just 15 seconds left. But Jordan Hamilton maneuvered her way into the post and finished a layup through contact to send it to OT. There, with the Gators already down their two bigs (each fouled out right before Northwestern’s run), the Wildcats dominated.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who played the last six minutes of the game and all of overtime with four fouls after two...questionable decisions, scored before finding Pulliam for a patented midrange jumper. Florida responded, but Scheid’s dagger three sealed the 83-74 victory.
The Gators, who had struggled in losses against Gardner-Webb and Mercer, controlled much of the contest. Standout senior Funda Nakkasoglu led the way with 26 points on just 13 shots, including multiple deep threes. And while her teammates went just 2-of-26 from beyond the arc, the Gators shot a sizzling 74 percent from two-point range in the first 37 minutes.
Northwestern came into the contest allowing well under 60 points per game. But they were missing starting point guard Veronica Burton and rotation piece Sydney Wood, both freshmen, for the second straight contest (both seem to be short-term absences), and are still awaiting the return of redshirt freshman guard Lauryn Satterwhite. As a result, Coach Joe McKeown’s rotation looked a lot like it did last year.
Most of the scoring burden fell on the shoulders of last year’s four leading scorers. Jordan Hamilton finished with 16 and Abi Scheid had 18 and eight rebounds. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had her third double-double of the season with 13 rebounds to go along with 18 of her own, and Lindsey Pulliam led the way with 22 in a game-high 44 minutes.
Though they limited turnovers effectively, Northwestern struggled offensively much of the night. Down two shooters in Burton and Wood, they shot just 23 percent from three and went 14-of-25 from the line. They also largely failed to put significant pressure on a Florida offense that entered Sunday turning it over 18 times per game, forcing just 11 giveaways.
Despite their struggles, Northwestern’s “Big Four” came through when it counted. Relying on unlikely late-game comebacks may not be a reliable model for success, but for now Northwestern remains undefeated, with two road wins under their belt.
The Wildcats will take a much-needed week off before returning to Welsh-Ryan on Sunday for a clash with 2018 WNIT contestant Tennessee-Martin.