Lone senior Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah stuffed the stat sheet, Lindsey Pulliam got back on track from the field, and Northwestern (16-12, 9-8 B1G) came away with a blowout win against an Indiana team (18-11, 7-10) teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
In their final regular season game at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats took a rare step, securing only the third .500 or better record in Big Ten play across the program’s last 22 seasons. All have come within the last five seasons.
Northwestern got out to a strong start, leading 15-5 early in the first quarter after six quick points from Kunaiyi-Akpanah. But the Hoosiers, despite struggling all night from the field, slowed things down, forcing Kunaiyi-Akpanah to sit due to foul trouble and cutting the Wildcat lead to 30-28 at the break.
Pulliam led the way in the opening half as Northwestern struggled to convert open opportunities, bouncing back from a 5-21 performance against Nebraska last week. The sharpshooting sophomore scored 14 of the last 17 points of the half for the Wildcats, buoying them to a third quarter offensive renaissance.
Northwestern came out of the half on a 16-2 run in just over six and a half minutes, getting points and impressive defense from every player on the floor. The Hoosiers had no recourse, and the Wildcats never looked back. Their lead never again got down to single digits as they cruised to a 20 point win.
Indiana, coming off an impressive home win against 12th-ranked Iowa, finished the game with just 49 points on 31 percent shooting. Of those who played more than a minute, only Kim Royster shot better than 33 percent from the field. She finished with nine and seven rebounds, while Jaelyn Penn led the way with 12 points.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah was limited to just twenty minutes, fouling out in the fourth quarter. Regardless, the team’s elder statesman recorded her 16th double-double of the season, and even added a whopping six steal (a season-high) along with three assists to her 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Pulliam, a year after putting 33 on an Indiana squad that went on to win the WNIT, cooled off to finish with 24 points this time around. Veronica Burton added eight points, four assists, and four boards, while Abbie Wolf chipped in ten rebounds off the bench.
Indiana entered the day as a ten seed in Charlie Creme’s bracketology at ESPN. But after Northwestern authoritatively completed their season sweep of the Hoosiers, their spot looks much less likely to remain in place. They will have some work to do to secure their spot in the field.
Northwestern, meanwhile, still will almost certainly need to win the Big Ten Tournament to get to the dance. But a WNIT berth now seems likely regardless of how the season ends, which would be an impressive step for a team that was in full rebuild mode just last year.
The Wildcats will close out the regular season on Sunday at Iowa, who haven’t lost at home all year. The Big Ten Tournament begins next Wednesday. and NU, currently the sixth seed, would play the winner of Indiana-Illinois Thursday evening if the current standings hold.