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Arizona surges past Northwestern in WNIT final

McKale Center was a true home-court advantage for U of A, and Northwestern simply didn’t make enough shots to win.

All good things must come to an end, and Northwestern’s season followed that maxim in the WNIT championship in Tucson on Saturday.

In front of a sellout crowd at the McKale Center — 14,644 people, the largest crowd to ever watch a Pac-12 women’s basketball game — the Wildcats’ magical season came to a close in a 56-42 loss to Arizona.

Northwestern (21-15, 9-9 Big Ten) kept things close early in first half as both teams struggled to score, but the Wildcats managed just five points in the second quarter as Arizona (24-13, 7-11 Pac-12) opened up a 13-point lead at halftime that they would maintain the rest of the way. The teams combined for 37 turnovers, but ultimately it was Arizona who showed superior shot-making ability.

Aari McDonald, who averages 24.3 points per game, was the best player on the court. Her 19 points, seven rebounds, and six steals helped key an early ‘Zona run and the home team never looked back. Veronica Burton led the way for Northwestern with 16 points, and Lindsey Pulliam added 14 points (on 19 shots) and ten rebounds. The Wildcats shot just 27 percent from the field. Burton and Pulliam were both named to the WNIT all-tournament team.

Star post player Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah was outplayed by Arizona freshman Cate Reese. An and-one layup by Reese ignited the crowd in the first quarter and keyed an early 7-1 run.

In her final game as a Wildcat, Kunaiyi-Akpanah managed just four points on two field goal attempts and turned the ball over five times. The senior completed her NU career with a WNIT-record 78 rebounds, and 1,112 boards all told.

Joe McKeown leaned heavily on his starters, but the Wildcats could not create any more of the second-half magic that characterized their WNIT run. NU never got close than 11 points in the second half, shooting just 7-22 and only scoring nine points in the final quarter.

If anything, NU’s jaunt through the WNIT proved the team could gel together and should provide excellent experience for the 2019-20 unit. Northwestern will have to a big hole to fill in the post, but a backcourt of Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam with Jordan Hamilton in the mix as well is something to get excited about.