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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern cruises by Minnesota 80-51 in Big Ten opener

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That was easy. Very easy.

EVANSTON, Illinois — Only one tuneup? No problem. After a dominant, season-opening win against Eastern Illinois, Northwestern women’s basketball (2-0) easily handled its conference opener with an 80-51 win over Minnesota (1-3).

The Wildcats dominated everywhere, hitting 54% of their shots while holding the Gophers to 32% from the field. They gained an advantage particularly down low and in transition, outscoring the Gophers 46-16 in the paint and 22-2 on the fast break, respectively.

NU spread the wealth on offense, with four players scoring in double figures. Veronica Burton had her first double-double of the season, leading NU with 20 points (6-8 FG) and 10 assists, while Sydney Wood added 19 points and eight boards. The ‘Cats dished out 28 assists on 32 made baskets.

Lindsey Pulliam put up 13 points and 5 rebounds, and Courtney Shaw added 10 points, six boards and two blocks.

Guard Jasmine Powell led Minnesota with 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

There were no buzzer-beating dramatics against the Gophers this time around. Northwestern jumped on Minnesota early, racing out to a 19-3 lead early behind eight straight field goals to open the game, and never let their advantage shrink lower than nine.

After UM hit an early three, the ‘Cats went on a 17-0 run and used stifling defense to force seven Minnesota turnovers in the first quarter as they built their lead. The Golden Gophers, led by Powell and her eight first-quarter points, hit a couple of triples to cut the deficit to 11 points by the end of the quarter.

The active defense from Northwestern continued in the second frame, causing six more turnovers while holding Minnesota to 33% shooting. On the other end of the court, the Wildcats also struggled with ball security, turning the ball over six times in the second quarter alone.

Joe McKeown called timeout with NU up 32-23 with 5:27 left in the half, and they followed by closing the half on an 11-5 run led by Veronica Burton. The junior guard finished the half with 16 points and three steals on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line. The ‘Cats went into the locker room up 43-28.

NU did not look back in the second half as the ‘Cats continued executing well on offense while forcing the Gophers to turn the ball over and take contested shots. Northwestern, allowing only seven points in the third frame, extended its lead to 25 by the start of the fourth quarter.

Despite the large lead, McKeown opted to lean on his starters even deep into the fourth quarter. Lauryn Satterwhite was the only player off the bench to play more than 11 minutes.

The Wildcats will look to build on their strong start Thursday on the road against the Purdue Boilermakers (3-1) at 6 p.m. CT.