Northwestern women’s basketball (11-1, 1-0 B1G) started Big Ten play with a bang, taking down Illinois (9-3, 0-1 B1G) 77-50 and winning its first conference opener since 2016.
Lindsey Pulliam and Abbie Wolf led the way for the Wildcats with 27 and 18 points, respectively. Wolf also added a crucial 10 rebounds and 6 offensive boards in a big day for the senior.
As the seventh-ranked defense in the nation in points allowed, Northwestern stifled Illinois’ offensive weapons. The Wildcats held Illinois’ two leading scorers Petra Holesinska and Kennedi Myles to a combined 13 points and held the Illini to just 10 percent shooting from three. NU also out-rebounded Illinois 41-to-26 and held the conference-leader Myles to 6 rebounds on the day.
From the very beginning, both teams battled hard. The Illini came out especially confident on their home court with a strong crowd behind them. They found some easy buckets and took an early 8-5 lead, forcing a Joe McKeown timeout. Illinois extended its lead to as much as six points in the first, but a three-minute Illini scoring drought to end the quarter had the Wildcats trailing just 15-14 after ten minutes.
The first quarter was a similar story for each team with two players dominating the game. For Northwestern, it was Pulliam responsible for 10 of the 14 points. Wolf was the only other Wildcat on the board with four points in the first. Ali Andrews dominated the quarter with 11 of the 15 early points for the Illini.
Northwestern began the second quarter taking its first lead of the game. The two teams exchanged leads early in the second before the Wildcats managed to pull away, extending their lead to as much as ten. However, the Illini’s leading scorer Holesinska started to heat up late in the half, scoring five quick points to cut Northwestern’s lead to 31-26 at the break.
Northwestern dominated the quarter offensively, playing at its own pace and outscoring the Illini 22-11 since their last lead in the first. NU’s scoring was even across the board with five new Wildcats finding a bucket to add to Pulliam and Wolf’s first quarter totals. Wolf doubled her point total in the quarter and dominated the paint with five offensive boards in the half.
Illinois continuously shifted defenses throughout the quarter, but Northwestern adjusted well to these changes. The Wildcats also successfully shut down Andrews, holding her scoreless in the quarter.
The second half was all Northwestern.
The Wildcats started the third quarter hot, continuing to extend their lead over the Illini thanks to swarming defense and sharp shooting. Pulliam, Wolf, and Abi Scheid all continued to impress on offense, extending the NU lead to as much as 19. Scheid added 11 late-game points on 5-of-9 shooting. At the end of three, Northwestern led 54-37.
NU continued to dominate down the stretch, opening the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to put the game way out of reach. Defense continued to be the story of the day as Burton finished the game with 5 steals, well above her Big Ten leading average of 3.7 per game. Northwestern’s bench kept up the high level of play, extending the margin of victory to 27.
The Wildcats will face the Big Ten’s best No. 12 Maryland on Tuesday in its toughest matchup this season.