14th-ranked Northwestern women’s basketball (25-3, 15-2 B1G) is a single victory away from making history.
The ‘Cats are set to take on Illinois (11-17, 2-15 B1G) in Saturday afternoon’s regular season finale, and a win over the Fighting Illini will not only guarantee them at least a share of the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 1990, but will also simultaneously set the program records for most wins in a season at 26 and most conference wins in a season at 16.
However, with one final weekend of regular season play and many contenders vying for optimal seeding in the Big Ten tournament, many different scenarios could possibly play out.
If Northwestern beats Illinois, it will earn at least half of the title. If Maryland beats Minnesota on Sunday, the two teams would share it; however, if Maryland loses, Northwestern would hold the best conference record and win the title alone. Of course, if Northwestern loses to Illinois, Maryland would be the sole regular season champion, assuming they beat Minnesota. If both somehow lose and Iowa beats Rutgers on Sunday, all three teams would share the title.
In terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding, if NU wins, it will occupy the two-seed because they split with Maryland and the Terps beat third-seeded Iowa once, earning them the top seed. If the ‘Cats lose and Iowa wins, however, Northwestern will drop to a three-seed in the tournament.
Meanwhile, when it comes to NU’s likely first round opponent, things are nowhere near settled. Nebraska is locked into #10, but Ohio State, Rutgers, and Michigan are tied for fifth as of now. If two of them win and the other loses, the loser would obviously earn the seventh seed. If all three win or lose, Michigan would be the seventh seed. For scenarios in which just one team won, Rutgers would be the #7 given a Buckeye victory, Ohio State would be given a Wolverine win, and Michigan would be on the 7-line if the Scarlet Knights were the lone victors.
Assuming the Wildcats end up with the #2 seed, they’ll play the winner of Nebraska and whichever of the aforementioned trio lands in seventh in Friday’s BTT quarterfinals.
Ultimately, though, all Northwestern has to do to secure the Big Ten title they’ve been chasing all season is win, so beating Illinois is certainly the priority. If history repeats itself, the ‘Cats should have no issue taking down the Illini, who hold the second-worst record in the conference.
The two teams faced off back in December in their first matchup of Big Ten play. Northwestern completely dominated Nancy Fahey’s squad in a 77-50 blowout, setting the tone for all of its conference schedule.
Lindsey Pulliam and Abbie Wolf led the ‘Cats to victory with 27 and 18 points, respectively. Wolf added 10 rebounds as well to complete the double-double. Northwestern’s defense dominated, per usual, and held Illinois’ top two scorers to a combined 13 points.
Illinois has struggled greatly in the conference despite its 9-2 start this season. The Illini have lost 11 of their last 12 games with the only win in the stretch coming against Penn State by four points. Their only other conference win was a three-point victory over Minnesota back in January.
Petra Holesinska is again the player to watch for the Illini. She is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game, and is the third leading three-point shooter in the Big Ten (behind Scheid of course) at 41.7 percent. But as a whole, the Illinois offense has been dismal, averaging a woeful 57.8 points per game in Big Ten play, worst in the conference by leaps and bounds.
Riding an eight game win streak, the ‘Cats will look to throttle the Illini again while honoring their five seniors in the final regular season home game of their careers.
Northwestern and Illinois will tip off at 1:00 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena, following Senior Day festivities to honor Abi Scheid, Abbie Wolf, Byrdy Galernik, Bryana Hopkins and Amber Jamison. You can catch NU’s final regular season matchup on BTN or WNUR Sports.