Thanks to an explosive 28 point second quarter, Northwestern (5-0) rolled over UT-Martin (4-2) on Sunday afternoon. Abi Scheid, sporting a walking boot, joined Veronica Burton and a sparse Welsh-Ryan crowd in street clothes. But after an ugly first quarter, the Wildcats turned on the jets with transition offense and well-distributed scoring, pulling away for a 90-64 win.
Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, despite playing just 22 minutes, led the way with 12 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Freshman Jess Sancataldo (pictured) poured in a career-high 20 points, with most of her points coming in the fourth quarter. Jordan Hamilton, Lindsey Pulliam, and Byrdy Galernik all had double digit points as well.
After a back-and-forth start, Northwestern turned the second quarter into a glorified layup line. The Skyhawks attempted to press, but the Wildcats beat it consistently, especially over the top. The Wildcats finished the quarter with 28 points on a whopping 11 layups and six free throws, leading 46-26 at the half.
McKeown talked postgame about going after UT-Martin’s press: “I thought we needed to attack it, instead of breaking it and pulling it back out...we got a lot of three on two, two on one, and that’s what we wanted.”
UT-Martin briefly closed the lead to 12 in the third quarter, but the re-entry of Amber Jamison, who was a +29 off the bench, led to a quick 12-4 Northwestern run. The Skyhawks didn’t come within 20 for the rest of the game.
“Amber is somebody who can play, and guard, three positions...she’s really strong. Every team needs a glue,” McKeown said postgame.
From there, the fourth quarter was the story of Sancataldo’s hot shooting. The Australian freshman now has 32 points in 23 career minutes, though most have come in garbage time. She also had the team’s only two threes of the contest.
“Coach just gives me free license to shoot,” Sancataldo said postgame. “So knowing I have his support every time I shoot is great.”
The absences of Scheid and Burton changed things, but Northwestern had to survive more than just injuries. Pulliam, still the team’s leading scorer, shot just 3-for-15 from the field, including 1-of-10 in the first half. And Hamilton had struggles of her own, finishing 5-of-14.
Postgame, McKeown discussed Pulliam: “She’s gonna have 33, like she did against Indiana last year, and she’s gonna have 12. Either way, she just wants to win. I don’t think any shots she took were bad shots. We have a lot of confidence in her.”
This time, the rest of the team picked up her slack in the scoring department. Galernik’s ten points included an 8-from-8 performance from the line. Meanwhile, in her return to the court after missing time with an injury, Sidney Wood chipped in eight, and Abbie Wolf, Jamison, and Bryana Hopkins combined for 18 off the bench.
UT-Martin was not quite so balanced. Despite a 12-player rotation (McKeown quipped, of the hockey-like five for five changes, “I was confident in our goalie”), Zaire Hicks and Chelsea Perry were the only Skyhawks to finish in double figures. UT-Martin also committed 26 fouls to Northwestern’s 13, and turned it over on 20 occasions.
Despite the comprehensive victory, there are plenty of questions as Northwestern looks forward. First, the status of Scheid and Burton, which is still up in the air. McKeown thinks they’ll be back soon, but wouldn’t discuss the nature of their injuries.
The Wildcats will probably need both of them moving forwards. After this week’s home tilt with struggling Pittsburgh, the team will have to go on the road to face top-15 DePaul before returning home for another tough Big East foe in Marquette.