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Rapid Reaction: Behind backcourt dominance, Northwestern blows past Rutgers 82-65

Three wins away from a Big Ten Championship.

@nuwbball on Twitter

EVANSTON — In what was one of their most impressive games of the season, the Northwestern Wildcats (23-3, 13-2 B1G) drubbed the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (18-8, 8-7 B1G) 82-65.

It was a full team effort tonight, with Lindsay Pulliam leading the way with 27 points on 10-17 shooting while also shooting 4-7 from three. She also added seven rebounds and five assists.

Veronica Burton followed closely behind, putting up 23 points on 8-9 (!) shooting. Burton also posted nine assists, four rebounds and five steals in what was one of her most complete games of the year.

It was the fourth time this season that Pulliam and Burton combined for 40 points or more.

Northwestern began the game with a pair of blocks from Abbie Wolf, which led to a three from Abi Scheid to open up the Wildcats’ scoring. On the other side of the court, Jordan Wallace was the only player to keep the Scarlet Knights’ offense moving, scoring eight in the first quarter. Lindsey Pulliam converted a pair of threes and an and-one to put the ‘Cats up 16-14 at the end of first quarter.

Pulliam continued to stay hot, getting a jumper and a three to go in the opening minute of the second quarter. Even when Pulliam was off the court, the ‘Cats had no problem on offense, with Wolf going on a personal 6-0 run and Burton splashing a buzzer-beating three to put Northwestern up 31-18.

Rutgers’ supposed top three Big Ten defense was nowhere to be seen in the first half, as the ‘Cats shot 13-22 from the floor, including 5-9 from three, in the first 20 minutes of play.

Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights couldn’t get any looks to fall. In the first half, Rutgers shot just 8-26 from the field, while also shooting 0/5 from three. The ‘Cats forced just five turnovers out of the Scarlet Knights in the first half, while holding them to a meager 22 points.

At the end of the first half, the Wildcats led comfortably by 15 points, putting up 37 points in the first 20 minutes behind Pulliam’s 15. But the scoring outbursts didn’t stop there.

Northwestern began the third quarter on a 17-4 run powered by Scheid, Pulliam and Burton. At the media timeout with four minutes to go in the third quarter, the ‘Cats found themselves up by 30 with Pulliam leading the way at 22 points and Scheid adding 9 of her own.

Northwestern’s defense remained impeccable, holding Rutgers’ leading scorer, Arella Guirantes, to just eight points on 1-6 shooting (6-6 from the free throw line), at the end of the third quarter. The Scarlet Knights remained scoreless from deep and found themselves down 37-64 at the end of third quarter.

The Scarlet Knights made their first three of the game at the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter in the midst of a 14-4 Rutgers run to cut down Northwestern’s lead to 17.

Unfortunately for Rutgers, Pulliam and Byrdy Galernik went on a quick 7-0 run to get the ‘Cats back up by 24. The run was capped off by Burton’s fifth steal and ninth assist of the night. With the game under complete control, Northwestern’s second unit came in with two minutes to play and went into cruise control to capture the ‘Cats’ sixth straight win.

NU finished 10-20 from three as a team, and shot 30-51 from the field overall, with a whopping 24 assists on the 30 made shots.

Abbie Wolf had 14 points (on impressive 5-5 shooting), eight rebounds, and four blocks for the ‘Cats. For Rutgers, Guirantes finished with 19 points on 4-13 shooting, while Wallace added 16 points on 8-11 shooting.

Up next, Northwestern will travel to Madison on Saturday to face the Wisconsin Badgers.