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“Best backcourt in the Big Ten” powers Northwestern to 82-65 victory over Rutgers

Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton absolutely annihilated a solid Scarlet Knights squad in a critical Wednesday night win.

Burton (centered, left) and Pulliam (centered, right) celebrate a big shot against Michigan State.

Throughout the 2019-20 season, the dynamic duo of Lindsay Pulliam and Veronica Burton have had their fair share of standout games and eye-popping highlights on both the offensive and defensive ends for Northwestern women’s basketball (23-3, 13-2 Big Ten).

Last night, though, things just seemed a little bit different.

Not only did the two guards combine for 50 points, they also added 14 assists and 11 rebounds. In the end, the pair had scored or assisted on 72 of Northwestern’s 82 points, the most a team has scored against Rutgers all season. The 72 alone would have been good for the second-most anybody has tallied against the Scarlet Knights in regulation, behind only Maryland.

“Best backcourt in the Big Ten,” Pulliam said postgame in response to a question about the impressive offensive display from her and Burton. “Best backcourt in the country!”

And she just might be onto something.

Okay, maybe “best backcourt in the country” is a bit of an overstatement, but the impact that these two players have had on the team as a whole cannot be taken for granted. Last night was the seventh game this season in which Pulliam and Burton combined for 38 points or more, and the second time in nine days where they combined for at least 50.

“They’re the best backcourt in Evanston, at least that I’ve seen,” head coach Joe McKeown joked in response to Pulliam’s initial statement. Turning serious, he continued: “They’re really good, and you know they’re fun, everything they do is fun.”

It was certainly a fun one for both guards last night. Diving a little bit deeper, Pulliam shot 10-17 from the field, including 4-7 from three point range. Meanwhile, Burton shot 8-9 (!) from the floor, while also going 2-3 from three (she has now hit 11 of her past 15 from beyond the arc) and 5-6 from the free throw line. It marked the highest field goal percentage the red-hot Burton has recorded all season.

“At the end of the day, my teammates and my coaches constantly were telling me ‘that’s your shot, you gotta keep taking them,’” said the sophomore point guard, who is averaging 19.8 points over her last five games, of fighting through her early-season struggles. “Just to see them go in and see my hard work pay off is definitely a good feeling.”

And that was just on the offensive end. On the defensive side of the ball, Burton recorded five steals, while Pulliam added one of her own. All in all, the duo combined for six of Northwestern’s nine steals on the night, which were a driving factor in holding the Scarlet Knights to just 65 points, and 37 through the three quarters in which the game remained competitive.

“If she’s not on the floor, you know she’s not on the floor,” Pulliam said of Burton. “You know she’s going to make a player and she’s always going to be wherever you need her to be. It’s awesome playing with her.”

Nine of the 14 assists recorded by Pulliam and Burton last night were by way of the latter. Of the Newton native’s nine helpers, four were on shots taken and made by Pulliam.

“As a point guard, I mean, you wouldn’t want to play with anyone else besides Lindsay,” Burton said. “She’s just always in the right place at the right time. And she just knows how to hoop, honestly, at the end of the day.”

The two guards have combined to score 40+ points four times this season. All four of these games came in conference play: once vs. Maryland, where they combined for 47, twice vs. Michigan State, where they combined for 44 and 54 (!), and last night against Rutgers. Add in their near-misses (39 against Michigan, 38 against Penn State, and 39 again against Xavier in their final non-conference game), and it becomes clear that the two are only getting better at playing off of each other.

While Pulliam’s ability to take over a game has never been in question, Burton’s beginning to show her own ability to carry the weight. Take Sunday’s crucial clash with Nebraska, for example. Burton led the ‘Cats in scoring with 21 points and in steals with three, tallying 15 of Northwestern’s 31 second half points to bring the Wildcats back from the dead and steal a victory away from the Cornhuskers.

“I just told [Veronica] one day, ‘Today’s the day you’re gonna start making them,’” Pulliam said while laughing. “Well, I told her that five games in a row, actually, but still.”

With their current hot streak in mind, it will be extremely intriguing to see what this duo, who seem to be clicking more and more with each other as the season approaches its conclusion, can do heading into postseason play.

The ‘Cats, still chasing a share of the regular season conference title, have just three regular season games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, beginning this Saturday at Wisconsin.