On the last day of 2019, Northwestern women’s basketball proved themselves an elite force amongst a deep Big Ten.
In their toughest matchup of the season, the Wildcats annihilated the No. 12 Maryland Terrapins 81-58, proving that they deserve to be respected as a top program in both the conference and the nation as a whole. The upset victory shocked the women’s basketball world and proved that the conference title is still very much up for grabs — with Northwestern as one of the likely contenders.
However, the win was more than just an upset over a ranked team. The magnitude of the win has major implications historically and for the exciting season to come. Ultimately, the ‘Cats put up an incredible performance against Brenda Frese’s squad, rattling them significantly and showing that NU is ready to dominate conference play.
The following stats get at the true importance of both the win and its dominant nature.
1. Northwestern held Maryland to 28 points fewer than its season scoring average
When the seventh-best scoring defense takes on the sixth-best scoring offense and wins by plenty, it shows why the saying goes “defense wins championships.” The Wildcats knew they would have their hands full with Maryland’s dominant offense, which was averaging a whopping 86.5 points per game heading into the contest.
Relying on offense to outscore the Terrapins would be tough, as Northwestern had not even scored upwards of 80 points before the matchup, and had never topped 70 against UMD (Maryland also had not given up 70 points all year). And when they needed it, Northwestern’s Blizzard defense rose to the occasion.
NU stifled any UMD efforts to find open shots by rotating seamlessly and aggressively attacking the ball. Northwestern’s defensive efforts started from the get-go, as the Wildcats held Maryland to just six points in the first quarter. Through three quarters, they had only 36, and it took a slight outburst of three point shooting in the fourth quarter to get their score to an even semi-respectable 58.
For a team that relies on its offensive efficiency, Maryland was lost and could not find a solution to its struggles. The suffocating Northwestern defense turned Welsh-Ryan into a nightmare for the Terps, as they’ve done repeatedly this season against a variety of opponents, showing no signs of slowing.
2. The Wildcats scored 29 points off 24 forced turnovers
In a 23-point margin of victory, giveaways and the points that resulted were the deciding factors. Northwestern forced a season-high 24 turnovers for Maryland and recorded a season-high of its own with 29 points off of them. Before the matchup, Maryland surrendered an average of 14.2 turnovers per game, resulting in only 12.2 points per game for the opponent. However, the category was out of the Terps’ control on Tuesday.
Veronica Burton surpassed her season average, recording a whopping six steals on the day. Lindsey Pulliam added three of her own. Maryland starters Kaila Charles and Ashley Owusu accounted for a combined 12 of the giveaways, with backcourt mate Taylor Mikesell turning it over on another four occasions. In return, the Terrapins only scored 13 points off 13 NU turnovers, and failed to even come close to negating the impressive effort from the ‘Cats.
3. Northwestern outshot Maryland by 28 percent from behind the arc
While the ‘Cats and the Terps entered the game shooting a comparable 35 and 39 percent from three respectively, the vastly different performances from beyond the arc in this contest would add significantly to Northwestern’s successes and drastically hinder Maryland’s. The Terps rely on the three at times, shooting almost 20 per game and making eight on average. However, the Wildcats completely shut down this aspect of their game on Tuesday.
Maryland continued to fire from three all game long, but did not connect on its first triple until midway through the fourth quarter. The Terps finished the game at 22 percent on 4-of-18 shooting from deep.
Not only did Maryland struggle more than usual, but Northwestern excelled in the category behind a stellar 3-for-5 performance from Abi Scheid. The ‘Cats shot 50 percent from long range on 6-of-12 shooting, perfecting their stroke at the perfect time. Pulliam added two threes on the day — a big feat for the Maryland native against her hometown team.
4. The win was Northwestern’s first over Maryland. Ever.
Maryland, as most readers likely know, is historically one of the top programs in women’s basketball. The Terps have appeared in 27 NCAA tournaments, have gone to the Final Four five times, won a national championship in 2006, have not missed the tournament in nine years and have made it every year since joining the Big Ten.
Northwestern has struggled greatly with Maryland as an opponent since the two became conference rivals, posting an 0-7 record against the Terrapins in five seasons of Big Ten play before the win on Tuesday (they only met once before that in another NU loss). Not only was the win the first for the Wildcats against Maryland, but it was also the first time Joe McKeown had taken down the Terps in 25 years, dating all the way back to early in his tenure at George Washington.
5. Maryland wins (on average) 88 percent of its Big Ten games: Northwestern wins 43
Since joining the conference, Maryland is 77-11 in Big Ten play, having lost more than three conference games in a season on just a single occasion. The Terps have been wildly successful in their brief run of Big Ten play, earning four titles in just five years in the conference. With the Wildcats knocking off the prohibitive preseason favorites, a momentous shakeup at the top of the conference may be in the cards.
Meanwhile, Northwestern has won just 43 percent of its conference games since 2014 and just 35 percent of them since the McKeown era began. The Wildcats, who have made the NCAA Tournament and finished above .500 in Big Ten play just once each this century, are not exactly conference bottom-feeders, but this is the type of win that could propel them to the top of the pack.
It’s only their second victory over a top-12 opponent since 2000, with the last occurring the January before their most recent Tournament appearance, in 2015. With all of that said, there is a significant case for this win being not only a momentum-builder going forward into 2020, but, thanks to its blowout nature, the most impressive regular season victory of the century for Northwestern women’s basketball.