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Rapid Reaction: Lacking a dominant showing from Burton, Northwestern squeaks by Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 55-46

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That was a close one.

EVANSTON, Ill. — A win is a win.

While it wasn't the most impressive performance from the Northwestern Wildcats (8-3) or their star guard, Veronica Burton, it was enough to walk away victorious against UW-Milwaukee (4-7), as the ‘Cats walked away on top, 55-46.

In the absence of a dominant performance from Burton, who finished 2-for-12 from the field, NU relied on the play of Caileigh Walsh — who scored 17 while racking up 5 rebounds — and a pair of three-pointers from junior Kaylah Rainey to jump start its offense and regain the lead after falling behind early. The Panthers were led by Megan Walstad, who put up a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Like they have at many points this season, the Wildcats started off the game slowly. At the first media timeout, they were shooting 2-for-7 from the field and 0-for-2 from beyond the arc. Milwaukee wasn’t faring much better, shooting 3-for-9 themselves. However, one of the Panthers’ makes was a three from Miquela Santoro, which gave her team a 7-4 lead just over five minutes into the contest.

After Courtney Shaw knocked down two free throws to draw NU within one and Walstad converted on a layup to reinstate the Panthers’ three-point advantage, the teams both failed to score for the next three minutes and 20 seconds. A mid-range jumper from Paige Mott and three-pointer from Laya Hartman on consecutive possessions gave NU a 11-9 lead before Walstad hit a floater at the buzzer to tie things up at 11 at the end of the quarter.

NU’s offensive struggles would continue into the second, where they shot a dismal 2-for-12 and turned the ball over four times. Notably, Burton failed to make a shot in the first 20 minutes of play, going 0-for-5 from the floor and 0-for-4 from three while hitting two free throws just over 17 minutes into play to record her first points of the game.

Meanwhile, Walstad continued to be a force for the Panthers. She shot a perfect 3-for-3 in the second quarter — good for half of UWM’s 12 points in the period — while adding three rebounds to help put her team up 23-18 at the half. The Wildcats were getting beat by their guests in nearly every statistical category at the break, getting outshot 30 to 21.4 percent, out-rebounded by a margin of 24 to 19 and out-assisted 7 to 5.

Come the end of the third quarter, Burton would still be without a made basket, but the team’s offense rallied in spite of her struggles. Rainey checked in to start the half and hit her first two attempts — both from three — to draw NU within a score. Seven points from Walsh — including a smooth layup to tie the game — as well as 3-for-12 shooting from the Panthers helped the ‘Cats take the lead and carry a 40-37 advantage into the final 10 minutes of play.

The fourth quarter proved to be a back-and-forth affair, with points hard to come by for both squads. Northwestern’s lead oscillated between one and three points constantly throughout the period, with Milwaukee getting things as close as 46-45 with just 3:34 left in the game. That’s when Joe McKeown’s team was finally able to create some distance, as two free throws from Courtney Shaw put NU up by three, and a gorgeous crossover and finish from Burton gave the ‘Cats a 50-45 edge with under two minutes left in the contest.

Missed field goals and free throws galore from the Panthers defined the rest of the game’s action, allowing Northwestern to escape with a 55-46 win over its mid-major opponent.

The Wildcats will be back in action on Friday night, when they take on Temple at Welsh-Ryan Arena.