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Golden opportunity looms for Northwestern women’s basketball

A hard-earned victory in Minnesota proved the ‘Cats can win ugly. Now it’s time for them to turn that into momentum.

Northwestern v Duke Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Things weren’t pretty on Thursday night, but in the end, Lindsey Pulliam and co. came through when they needed to, fighting their way to a crucial victory against Minnesota. Importantly, the win came as a measure of redemption for Northwestern (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten), who lost to Lindsay Whalen the Golden Gophers twice during the 2018-19 season, by single digits both times.

A similar shot at vengeance is in the cards Sunday evening, and a win this time around could reap even greater rewards. Purdue (11-5, 2-2) is in the midst of an up-and-down start to the season, but even though they are currently riding a two game losing streak, the veteran Boilermakers pose a significant threat to the Wildcats.

Twice, Purdue took down Northwestern by just three points last season. Both games were back-and-forth down to the wire, with Boilermaker sharpshooter Karissa McLaughlin notably capping a 9-11 performance from beyond the arc in West Lafayette with a game-winner that splashed through with just over a second left.

Purdue returns essentially every important piece. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that includes star center Ae’Rianna Harris, who averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game in two 2018-19 tilts with NU and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, and is putting up 12 points, eight boards, and three blocks per contest so far this season.

Harris is a force on the glass and somebody to be reckoned with underneath on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately for Northwestern, that’s been an issue of late. The Wildcats have been out-rebounded by double digits in three of their first four Big Ten matchups, and Abbie Wolf has been largely neutralized on the post. A healthy dose of Courtney Shaw helped things against Minnesota, but its an area that NU will have to focus on.

Meanwhile, after squeaking out a rare conference road win in spite of some significant offensive struggles, Northwestern needs to get back on track. Abi Scheid was superb, but Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton combined to shoot just 6-24 from the field, and the latter committed six turnovers.

The Minnesota half-court pressure defense helped in some respects, but largely, the Wildcats just missed shots they don’t typically miss. And with the pressure now remaining on Northwestern, the top offensive contributors for NU will need to make it happen in front of a televised audience on Sunday night.

Depending on the outcome of Indiana-Iowa, which transpires at 4:00 pm CST, the Wildcats will either set themselves up with a chance to play for a share of the conference lead or to take it outright on Thursday evening, when the purple and white heads to Bloomington.

But all of that hinges on them drastically turning around the way they finish from where they were the last time they faced Purdue. But with the Minnesota win already in the books, despite its nastiness down the stretch, it seems as though the tides of fortune may have turned.

Northwestern takes on Purdue live at Welsh-Ryan on Sunday night (tonight) starting at 6:00 pm CST.