For 39 minutes, it seemed as though Northwestern’s season would be coming to a close at the WVU Coliseum. But in the minute that matters the most, the final one, Lindsey Pulliam propelled the Wildcats onward in the WNIT. Northwestern (19-14, 9-9 B1G) took its first lead of the game with 42 seconds remaining to overcome an 18-point deficit and upset the Mountaineers (22-11, 11-7 Big 12) 56-54.
It was a true team effort from the ‘Cats. Veronica Burton notched 17 points plus four steals and Lindsey Pulliam added 15, but perhaps the most impressive performance came from Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who brought down 19 rebounds (ten of them offensive!) to go with 12 points, three assists, three steals, and three blocks.
West Virginia stormed out to a 27-9 lead early in the second quarter, but Northwestern was able to cut the margin to five entering halftime with a 16-3 run. The second half was a slugfest as the Mountaineers maintained a lead throughout, but weren’t able to extend it to double digits at any point.
Northwestern’s persistence paid off in the fourth quarter. The team went on a 10-2 run in the final six minutes of the game to turn a six-point margin into a two-point victory. Northwestern overcame some questionable officiating with two minutes remaining, as a seemingly stellar defensive possession from the ‘Cats resulted in a jump ball call from the officials. This development came much to the dismay of coach Joe McKeown, who rightfully had no idea what was going on.
Yet Northwestern fought back from the bad break. Abi Scheid responded on the other end of the court with a three after two offensive boards from Kunaiyi-Akpanah to bring the ‘Cats within one. Northwestern found a stop and with 42 seconds showing on the clock, Pulliam stroked a jumper that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, and the only one that they would need.
It’s an impressive win for Northwestern, not only because it advanced the team to the quarterfinals, but also because of the quality of opponent. West Virginia put up a solid resume in the Big 12 and was one of the last teams to be cut from the NCAA Tournament.
The win also represents Northwestern’s best finish in the WNIT since 1996, and comes on the heels of a 16-point comeback in the previous round against Toledo. The end of the tournament is shaping up to be potentially historic for the Wildcats, but for now, Northwestern will be focused on enjoying this victory.
The Wildcats will have an opportunity to advance to the semifinals in Evanston on Saturday, where they’ll face the winner of Ohio and Western Kentucky, who square off on Thursday.