That sound you just heard was a massive collective sigh of relief.
After Minnesota (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) tied the game thanks to two missed free throws from Veronica Burton and a massive three from Jasmine Brunson with 4.7 seconds to play, Burton found Lindsey Pulliam underneath just before time expired to win a wild one in Minneapolis.
Northwestern (13-2, 3-1) got a season-high 24 points from Abi Scheid in the senior’s final return to her home state, and Pulliam shook off a 4-16 shooting, six turnover night to hit two huge shots down the stretch, buoying the Wildcats just enough to earn a resumé-building 56-54 win.
The first half, though frantic at times, did not result in many points being put on the board. The hounding Blizzard zone defense that is a trademark of Joe McKeown-coached squads forced the Gophers into 13 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, more than they average per game in the 2019-20 season.
But Minnesota hit five threes in the half, accounting for nearly two-thirds of their 25 points and Northwestern couldn’t get anything to drop, shooting a lowly 32 percent from the field. Abbie Wolf couldn’t get anything going underneath, finishing the second quarter scoreless and sitting at 0-4 from the field, and though Pulliam and Scheid combined for 16 points it took them 16 shots to do it.
The Wildcats came out quickly in the third quarter, though, with Scheid providing nine straight points on four consecutive made jumpers to help build an 11 point Northwestern lead, their largest of the night. Courtney Shaw’s energy off the bench also helped shut Minnesota’s post offense down after slight early success: in arguably the sophomore’s best performance of the season, she finished with six points (on perfect shooting from the field), eight rebounds, and two blocks in just 18 minutes.
Unfortunately, the Gophers wouldn’t go away. Back-to-back three-point plays reeled the Wildcats in before Burton ended the third quarter with a massive step-back three. Northwestern held them at arms length for a while, with Sydney Wood driving in for two early-fourth quarter layups before Scheid drilled another three to re-extend the lead to ten.
Then, the offense went silent. NU scored just once, on a Wolf post touch (her lone points of the contest), over the ensuing five minute stretch, and Minnesota’s 10-2 run over that span cut the lead to 52-50. The Wildcat defense continued to hold up, though, forcing Minnesota on a three minute long field goal drought of their own, with Pulliam’s difficult contested jumper re-establishing a four point advantage.
After the Wildcats fouled intentionally to run some clock, the officials seemingly assumed Wood was trying to give another despite being in the bonus, which led to extremely minimal contact sending Gadiva Hubbard to the free throw line with 50 seconds left, the culmination of a questionably-officiated half.
Hubbard went 1-2 from the charity stripe, and after a series of fouls, Burton went to the line with 19 seconds to play. After she missed both (only Lindsey Pulliam made a free throw on the day for the ‘Cats, with Scheid going 0-3 on a second quarter trip as well), Minnesota’s hopes remained alive.
Sure enough, after Wood knocked a pass into the backcourt, Brunson collected it, raced back up the floor, and nailed the then-biggest shot of the game.
But Northwestern advanced the ball with a timeout, and drew up an absolute beauty, with Burton inbounding to Wolf who handed it back off to her, allowing the point guard to race into the lane, force the help to come, and find an open Pulliam for the game-winner.
Minnesota couldn’t get another shot off, and NU walked out of The Barn with the type of road conference win that plays very well in March, overcoming late adversity to knock off a solid Big Ten opponent in thrilling fashion.
Scheid, who missed a career-high by a single point, went 10-17 from the field and 4-6 from three-point land to carry the scoring load. Burton finished just 2-8 for five points, but added four assists and a game-high five steals to add to her Big Ten-leading 3.7 per-game average.
Pulliam poured in 13, and Wood, who played tremendous defense all game long, chipped in six points and seven boards. Hubbard led the way with 13 points and six assists for the Gophers, with Taiye Bello adding 12 points and nine rebounds and Destiny Pitts scoring 11.
The Wildcats will be back in action at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 6:00 pm on Sunday against Purdue. The game will be televised on BTN, and a win would all but assure Northwestern their first berth this season in the AP Top 25.