A few minutes into the third quarter, it looked like Northwestern basketball was close to the end of their 2018-19 season. But after struggling mightily on the offensive end for the game’s first 25 minutes, the Wildcats turned things around, storming back from a 16 point deficit to advance to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT.
Lindsey Pulliam scored 17, Veronica Burton had 13 points to go with four steals and three assists, and Northwestern (18-14, 9-9 B1G) out-slugged Toledo (21-12, 11-7 MAC) down the stretch to pull out the victory. Kaayla McIntyre led the way for the Rockets with 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Wildcats started the contest about as slowly as possible, tallying just four points in the first quarter. Star center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah got into early foul trouble, and though Northwestern held Toledo to only 11 points with a solid defensive effort, their poor offensive execution dug them an early hole.
Things heated up a bit in the second quarter. With a three point play from Abi Scheid, a score from Akpanah, and Northwestern’s only three of the game (delivered by Burton), the Wildcats cut the deficit to one. But the Rockets responded. Going off for 16 points in the final seven minutes of the half, Toledo entered the break with a nine point lead.
Initially, things only got worse for the Wildcats to begin the third quarter. With Akpanah mostly on the bench thanks to her three fouls, the hosts ran off seven straight points to take a 38-22 lead with 5:40 to go. From there, though, it was all Northwestern.
Slowly but surely, the Wildcats clawed their way back, forcing missed shots and turnovers thanks to pesky guard play and a bolstered interior with Akpanah’s re-entrance. The Rockets failed to tally a point for the remainder of the quarter. Even after Northwestern’s senior center tallied her fourth foul, Abbie Wolf entered and scored back-to-back baskets to cut the lead to three entering the fourth.
The quarter break didn’t halt the momentum of the Wildcats. Pulliam nailed a pair of free throws, and Wolf continued her hot streak with an and-one to give Northwestern their first lead at 40-38. At that point, they had scored 18 straight. Toledo briefly retied it, but Wolf struck again, and another three point play, this time from Pulliam, stretched the lead to seven.
With 1:30 to go, the Rockets finally stopped Northwestern’s run with five quick points, but by then it was much too late. NU had fully locked them down defensively, forcing ten total turnovers in the game’s final fifteen minutes. The Wildcats iced the game at the charity stripe, going 13-14 at the line in the fourth quarter as defensive specialist Nakiah Black and shooter Mariella Santucci fouled out for Toledo.
Akpanah played just 21 minutes, but tallied ten rebounds and three steals in a key defensive effort. Wolf finished with 11 points off the bench, with the junior center playing crucial minutes down the stretch. Pulliam, meanwhile, fought through struggles from the field to become the fastest player in Northwestern history to 1,00 points with a third quarter putback.
The Wildcats will likely remain on the road, facing West Virginia in the WNIT Sweet 16 at a time yet to be determined. The Mountaineers (22-10, 11-7 Big 12) were one of the last teams cut from the NCAA Tournament.