EVANSTON — It was closer than expected, but the ‘Cats got their all-important bounce back win after suffering a loss to no. 20 Maryland on Sunday,
Michigan (13-7, 4-5 B1G) went toe-to-toe with No. 23 Northwestern (18-3, 8-2) for most of Thursday night, but down the stretch Lindsey Pulliam and the ‘Cats proved to be too much in an 81-73 victory.
Pulliam led the way for NU in an efficient performance, pouring in a season-high 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, and 10-11 shooting from the foul line. Naz Hillmon paced Michigan with 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The Wildcats came out the aggressors and would end up forcing 16 turnovers.
Despite losing the opening tip, Veronica Burton deflected the Wolverines’ first pass for a steal. That would be one of a staggering seven steals Northwestern registered in the opening quarter, as Michigan seemed ill-equipped for the constant double-teams that the blizzard defense threw at them.
After the first ten minutes, NU held a 20-13 lead behind eight points from Abi Scheid, who finished the game with 13 on 5-of-8 shooting and was a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown. Even as the ‘Cats continued to miss open looks, shooting a ghastly eight-for-21 in the first period, their tenacious defense helped them build a sizable lead.
However, things shifted in the second quarter. The poor shooting from the initial period carried over to the second but was not buoyed by the same stellar defensive performance. Northwestern failed to force any steals, and several rotational miscues allowed easy scores in the post for Hillmon and multiple trips to the foul line. She went 11-of-14 from the charity stripe.
NU even surrendered the lead to the Wolverines heading into the final minute of the half, only to quickly regain it with two free throws from Lindsey Pulliam, giving the ‘Cats a 34-33 advantage at the break.
For a team that has hung its hat on having one of the best defenses in the country, Thursday night proved lackluster on that end of the floor. Michigan, despite a couple prolonged droughts from the field, always seemed to find a small crack in the Blizzard for open layups. By the end of the third, the ‘Cats already given up 49 points, only a few points off their average points allowed per game this season.
The two teams seesawed for the majority of the quarter before a string of jump shots from Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton helped Northwestern build a six-point lead going into the fourth.
The back and forth action continued until a left-handed, circus shot from Tik Tok legend Byrdy Galernik fired up the home crowd, which was soon followed by a 7-0 run from the Burton-Pulliam combo.
From there, Northwestern weathered a few buckets from the Wolverines with steady free throw shooting and held on for a 81-73 win.
The ‘Cats next travel to State College to face Penn State on Sunday.