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Northwestern trying to follow seismic victory over Maryland with a win against Iowa

After dominating no. 12 Maryland, can the ‘Cats sustain their early Big Ten success?

Northwestern Athletics/S.J. Carrera

The question now for Northwestern women’s basketball is not whether they can achieve success against quality Big Ten teams but rather can they sustain it? After Tuesday’s 81-58 demolition of league preseason favorite no. 12 Maryland, the Wildcats have thrust themselves into the thick of the conference’s best.

Dominant against their non-conference schedule, the ‘Cats could be undefeated and have two top-20 wins had they held it together for one final minute versus DePaul. The one thing this team has shown nearly halfway through the season, though, is the ability to have a short memory. It’s a mentality that has given every game a slightly different feel, and that’s a positive trend if you’re a Northwestern fan.

The magic number for Joe McKeown’s team figures to be eight more wins for a likely NCAA tournament berth. The victory over a highly touted Terrapin squad can only help, and 20 wins would be a nearly surefire bet for a team that has shot up to a six seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology projection.

Heading into Sunday’s clash with Iowa, it’s hard not to be bullish about NU, which came into the season with an abundance of cautious optimism after last year’s strong finish in the WNIT. That has blossomed into excitement after a 10-1 start which has been initially validated by two consecutive twenty-point wins against Big Ten opponents.

While this Northwestern team has registered nine twenty-point wins thus far, it has not lost its identity. The blizzard defense has held teams to an impressive 51.2 points per game while limiting opponents to 35.8 percent shooting from the field and 25.8 percent from three.

Those numbers are going to be important and tested against a score happy Hawkeye squad, one that NU hasn’t beaten since 2017. Iowa enters the contest averaging 81 points per game on 48 percent shooting.

Head coach Lisa Bluder brings in a three-headed scoring attack. Kathleen Doyle, Monika Czinano and Makenzie Meyer all average over 15 points per game. Doyle and Meyer each shoot well from downtown, and NU’s aggressive guard play will look to slow them and Iowa’s 38 percent-from-three mark down.

At 6-3, Czinano and Abbie Wolf figure to go at it down low. Wolf has continued her impressive play in NU’s first two B1G games, dominating Illinois for 18 points on 8-13 shooting and pouring in 10 against Maryland. She has been held to single digits just twice this season.

Lindsey Pulliam has undoubtedly been the headliner for the Wildcats. She’s averaging 19.1 points per game and has nearly doubled her three-point percentage from a year ago. The Maryland native has reached another level in conference play, averaging 25.5 points per game.

Pulliam has been the ticker for this team all season, but the more encouraging development of late is Veronica Burton. The sophomore entered the year with weighty expectations but started slow offensively.

Her defensive prowess, most notably her penchant for turnovers, has always been there, but her offense has taken a positive turn over the last six games, over which she’s averaged 11.5 points. The Backcourt Burglar, as she’s known by some, exploded for 23 against Maryland, making 14 of 15 free throws.

The difference in this game may come down to extra possessions. While Iowa has been an efficient shooting team, it allows four more shots per game to its opponents. Northwestern takes over three more shots per game than its opponents.

Part of that comes from turning the ball over. The ‘Cats thrive off forcing turnovers and take care of the ball, ranking 12th in the country in turnovers. They average a +6.9 turnover margin and whopping 21 points off turnovers. Their opponents average about nine points in that category.

Iowa barely breaks even in the turnover margin at +0.1, but the Hawkeyes love to share the ball, earning a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Northwestern’s is nearly identical at 1.5.

These teams last met in the 2019 regular season finale in Iowa City, when Iowa won 74-50.

Tip at Welsh-Ryan is set for 1 pm CT on BTN.