The No. 21 Wildcats (8-2, 6-2 B1G) are set to face-off against No. 16 Indiana (8-3, 6-1 B1G) in a rematch of what became a turning point in last year’s Big Ten title run. Despite a small blip in the form of a two-game losing streak against a beatable Nebraska team and arguably less beatable Michigan, McKeown’s squad has been feeling it lately, winning each of its last four matchups by an average of 20 points. However, Indiana has had ample rest time with their last two conference games against Rutgers and Michigan State postponed.
Though it may not be categorized as “their best win of the century” like last year’s 71-69 win in overtime at Assembly Hall, overcoming a solid Indiana team amidst a competitive Big Ten could put the ‘Cats back in serious contention for a conference title.
Last time Northwestern faced the Hoosiers, it was the Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf show. The former seniors both finished the game in double digits, with Scheid sending in a vital three in overtime and Wolf also picking up nine boards at the post. And, despite the Hoosier defense shutting down Lindsay Pulliam for the majority of the matchup — who had been averaging almost 30 points a game — the ‘Cats fought long and hard to earn a well-deserved win which propelled them to the top of the Big Ten table and their first top-25 ranking since 2016.
This time, without Scheid and Wolf, it’s up to Veronica Burton and Pulliam to put the Wildcats back (or almost back) on top.
Though Pulliam has played a bit under the radar so far, she shone against Illinois on Thursday with a season-high 28 points, shooting above 50% from the field. Burton continues to be a force on both ends of the court, recently pulling in 15 points and a season-high seven steals against the Illini as well. Both Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw have stepped up to the plate this season too, as their ability to rack up boards and blocks has proved to be a much-needed force in the backcourt.
That being said, Indiana has had a successful season of its own so far — their defense has been a stronghold, holding opponents to an average of 55 points per game and pulling in 75% of backcourt rebounds. Offensively, the Hoosiers have averaged a 25-point margin of victory in Big Ten play, led primarily by standouts Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes —both of whom have been averaging double-digit performances lately. Holmes is averaging 17.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and ranks 10th on the conference scoring list, third in three-point shooting and second in blocks. Berger charts close behind with 15.4 points and leads the conference with 6.2 assists per game while Ali Patberg has added 12.6 a game to the scoring total. The Hoosiers have five players averaging upwards of nine points per game.
Their only Big Ten loss thus far has come to No. 7 Maryland by a slim four-point margin, but otherwise, the Hoosiers have feasted on the conference’s bottom feeders throughout. In its matchup with the Wildcats, Indiana will look for its first ranked win of the season, as all three of its losses have come to top-25 opponents (No. 12 Kentucky, No. 25 Tennessee and No. 7 Maryland). It would also be the Wildcats’ first ranked win who dropped their only top-25 matchup to Michigan.
Should Northwestern continue the momentum they’ve built up through their past four wins and find a way to break down Indiana’s stellar defense, the ‘Cats could get themselves right back in it for some hardware in March.