Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah led the way with 17 points and 14 rebounds in just 28 minutes, and sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton added 9 points and 5 assists as Northwestern took home a nail-biting win in their season opener. Though the Wildcats didn’t look particularly sharp through the first three quarters against one of the best defenses in the country, they picked things up enough in the fourth to pull out a come-from-behind upset victory.
Nerves were definitely a factor for both teams offensively, as the first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie after an early injury to Green Bay starter Karly Murphy knocked her out of the game. The lid started to come off the basket, in the second quarter, especially for Green Bay freshman Hailey Oskey, who nailed five threes in the second quarter. She accounted for 16 of Green Bay’s first half points, as the Phoenix carried a 25-22 lead into the break.
Green Bay slowly stretched their lead all the way to 11 late in the third quarter, but freshman guard Veronica Burton’s three as the third quarter buzzer sounded cut the deficit to seven, and momentarily halted the momentum of the Phoenix.
After struggling from the field in the first three quarters, shooting just 29 percent against a fearsome Green Bay defense that is coming off of a season in which they held opponents to the second-lowest shooting percentage in the country. But late in the game, the Wildcats started to turn things around offensively.
Akpanah, Hamilton, and Lindsey Pulliam matched the Phoenix bucket for bucket to begin the fourth quarter, but when the former left the game with four fouls, Northwestern was left without much of a presence under the basket. Akpanah re-entered with under three minutes to play but Green Bay had re-opened the lead to eight despite a Hamilton three.
Against a team as solid defensively as Green Bay, the lead seemed insurmountable, but after a three from Sydney Wood cut the lead to two with under a minute to play, Hamilton stole the ensuing inbounds pass. The sophomore got fouled, but made just one of two free throws, cutting the deficit to one.
After an Akpanah-led stop, Lindsey Pulliam was fouled on the ensuing possession and knocked down two clutch free throws to give the Wildcats the lead. Northwestern would hold on to that lead through a chaotic final 22 seconds, pulling out a two point win.
Pulliam shot just 2-12, but went 5-6 from the free throw line, including the eventual game-winners. Burton, who started and played 28 minutes, finished with eight points and four steals, while Abi Scheid, who played virtually the entire game, chipped in five as well, going 0-5 from three point range. Oskey led the way for Green Bay, finishing with a game-high 18.
Northwestern has its home opener on Sunday at 1 p.m. against #21 Duke.