INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern’s biggest fear came true.
No. 11 Northwestern women’s basketball (26-4, 16-2 B1G) fell to seventh-seeded Michigan (21-10, 10-8 B1G) 67-59 in a hard-fought upset, knocking the ‘Cats out of the Big Ten Tournament and putting an abrupt end to their hopes of earning the other half of the conference title.
Poor foul shooting doomed NU, as it shot just 10-of-19 from the charity stripe.
Michigan freshman Maddie Nolan could not miss, to the tune of 13 points — 10 of which came in the second half. Naz Hillmon and Hailey Brown added 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Veronica Burton logged 15 points and seven assists, while Lindsey Pulliam hit 3-of-12 shots for nine points.
Northwestern’s bench put forth a strong effort with Jordan Hamilton, Courtney Shaw and Byrdy Galernik all putting up praise-worthy performances. Hamilton finished with 14 points while Shaw added six points on 3-of-3 shooting, four rebounds and two assists.
It was a battle from the start. Northwestern started slow and sloppy, allowing Michigan to jump out to an 8-0 lead behind solid starts from posts Brown and Hillmon — the only two Wolverines to score in the first quarter. The ‘Cats fought back, however, with five straight points from Lindsey Pulliam and Burton to cut the lead to three. Burton and Sydney Wood combined for some huge plays on defense to keep their team in the game early.
In the final three minutes, Shaw and Hamilton entered the game and brought the exact momentum Northwestern needed. Shaw made big plays on both ends to help cut the lead to one, and a pull up jumper from Hamilton with under 10 seconds to play in the quarter gave NU the 13-12 lead after one.
Northwestern’s bench continued to carry the team early in the second, as Shaw and Hamilton helped the ‘Cats maintain their one-point lead. However, a five-point swing with just under seven minutes to play saw Michigan quickly regain the lead. An and-one three from Amy Dilk led to a missed free throw, but the rebound and put-back from Hillmon gave Michigan the 21-17 advantage.
NU’s starters started to gain momentum and fight back as Burton, Wood and Abbie Wolf put together a few pretty plays to regain the lead. The two teams traded leads as the half wound down, but Northwestern came out ahead after Hamilton ended the half with three at the buzzer. NU led 32-31 at half.
The junior from Frisco, Texas led the ‘Cats into the break with 11 points in as many minutes, and Burton was close behind with 9. Hillmon led the Wolverines with 12.
The ‘Cats were able to maintain a slight advantage for most of the quarter as Michigan went three minutes without a field goal. However, with under four minutes to play in the third, Hailey Brown and Maddie Nolan heated up, and three late-quarter triples gave them the 49-44 advantage heading into the final frame.
Michigan’s three-point shooting hot streak continued in the fourth as Akienreh Johnson opened the quarter with the team’s sixth three of the night to extend the lead to eight. The Wolverines finished 7-of-13 from behind the arc compared to NU’s 3-of-12.
After a silent first three quarters from Abi Scheid, the senior captain found her stroke and hit back-to-back buckets, including one from behind the arc, to cut the lead to three. Behind perfect shooting from Nolan, Michigan managed to find a quick 6-0 run again to extend its lead to nine — its largest advantage of the night.
Byrdy Galernik entered after a timeout, jumpstarted NU’s defense in the back court and helped cut the lead to two with two minutes left. But it was the Wolverines came up with offense when they needed it most. With under a minute to play, Hamilton hit a short-range jumper to cut the lead to three, but a banked-in three by Brown sealed the win for the Wolverines.
Northwestern’s posts struggled mightily with Scheid and Wolf combining for just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Northwestern will continue its post-season run in the NCAA Tournament, awaiting its fate on March 16 — selection Monday.