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Northwestern women’s basketball player reviews: Abbie Wolf

The senior successfully filled the shoes of Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, playing a big role in Northwestern’s success.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Big Ten Women’s Tournament - Ohio State vs Iowa Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 Big Ten Champion Northwestern Wildcats used continuity and chemistry as the bedrock on which they built their shocking success. Joe McKeown’s squad returned all of their contributors from 2018-19 besides interior legend Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, but with PKA’s graduation, there was a sizable question mark surrounding NU’s ability to replicate her prowess on the post.

Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s clear successor was Abbie Wolf, a 6-foot-4 center who had seen decent minutes her junior year but started just one game prior to her senior season. Given her chance to shine in her final go in Evanston, she certainly took advantage of it. Wolf started all thirty games and averaged over 26 minutes, 11.3 points and 6.6 boards per game while improving her free throw percentage by more than 20 percent.

While Wolf lacked some of the athleticism and strength that Kunaiyi-Akpanah brought to bear, she owned a more polished offensive skillset and surprised a lot of people with her ability. In the game most average Wildcat fans are familiar with — Northwestern’s Big Ten Championship-clinching victory over Illinois — Wolf showed out, scoring a team-high 21 points and having a third quarter to remember. It was that kind of production that, crucially, kept opponents honest when defending NU.

Stats

The following statistics were taken from HerHoopstats.com:

Wolf’s stats generally speak for themselves. She was a classic center who developed a significant post game during her four-year career before putting it on display this season (as her shot distribution below indicates). Behind Lindsey Pulliam, who averaged nearly 19 points per game, Veronica Burton, Abi Scheid and Wolf comprised a three-headed offensive monster of starters who each averaged about 11.5 points. Unsurprisingly, the Connecticut native led NU in rebounds and grabbed nearly three offensive boards per contest.

The center’s 26.2 minutes per game indicates both the levels of importance and trust Wolf had with the coaching staff. In her first three seasons she averaged nine minutes per game, and she flipped her junior year minutes to fill the starting role. Her production backed it up.

Shot Distribution

The following statistics were taken from HerHoopstats.com:

The Greenwich product led NU in rebounding and field goal percentage — though Scheid was close behind in the latter. None of these stats are especially eye-popping for a player of her skillset. Wolf’s usage rate was decent as she was second behind Pulliam in total shots attempted. She tried just one three — during a heat check in the second Illinois win — and 85 percent of her points came from two-point field goals. While the vast majority of her baskets came from layups, she flashed a nice baby hook as well as the ability to step out and hit 10 to 15-foot jumpers.

One of the biggest changes in her game came at the charity stripe. She admitted in a postgame press conference that her free throw shooting was embarrassing as a junior and said she worked hard in the offseason to improve at it, and improve she did. Wolf went from 46 percent to 69 percent at the foul line. When teams fouled the center, her trips to the charity stripe were no longer potential throwaways, and she continuously capitalized.

The Good

What Wolf brought to the table uniquely was her height and offensive skills. Playing behind Kunaiyi-Akpanah gave her great practice and learning opportunities, and she put plenty of them on display. Wolf’s knack was finishing and being able to score with her back to the basket, namely using her length on deadly baby hooks. Defensively, she led NU with a block and a half per game. Her interior defense — while slightly inconsistent — got the job done in what can often be the weakest area of Joe McKeown’s patented Blizzard.

The Bad

Too often Wolf fired up errant shots from tough positions. Her shot selection, especially when defenses made her uncomfortable, lost focus at times. Additionally, for a player of her size and strength, it seemed like she could’ve been stronger with the ball, committing fewer turnovers. Her assist/turnover ratio was 0.82, which was by far the lowest among the eight Wildcats who saw consistent playing time.

The Bottom Line

Wolf, in her senior year, turned into the reliable post player Joe McKeown hoped she’d become. While her game wasn’t perfect on either end of the floor, her interior presence was something NU needed to stretch defenses for Pulliam, Abi Scheid and others, and she held her own defensively more often than not against tough Big Ten centers and forwards. Northwestern’s guards received most of the credit — and rightfully so — but Abbie Wolf’s emergence was paramount in the Wildcats’ run to the top of the Big Ten.