EVANSTON, Illinois — After suffering some hiccups in non-conference play, the ‘Cats are back on track, as Northwestern (6-3, 1-0 B1G) opened conference play with a defensively dominant win over Wisconsin (2-7, 0-1 B1G), 61-49.
This game wasn’t exactly an offensive Masterclass from either squad, but there were still a few standouts to be found. Star senior Veronica Burton led the way with a game-high 19 points and four steals. Before fouling out, first-year Caileigh Walsh scored 14 points of her own for a strong performance.
Sophomore guard Brooke Schramek headed the scoring attack for Wisconsin with 18 points from 6-of-9 shooting. It was the 23 turnovers that weighed down the Badgers’ opportunities to find any consistent offense.
From the jump, Walsh went to work. After playing solid defense on the first possession, she scored a pair of baskets to give Northwestern their first four points of the afternoon.
The defense for both sides shined through early. In the first five minutes, Northwestern shot 3-of-9 and was consistently unable to penetrate the Badger defense. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, Wisconsin shot 2-of-6 themselves with three turnovers, and with 4:16 left in the first quarter, the score was 8-5 in favor of the home team.
Northwestern turned it up for the final minutes of the first, going on a 6-0 run while holding Wisconsin to 0-for-5 shooting in that stretch. Walsh continued to stay hot offensively and hit the team’s first three-pointer, which capped off her 11-point opening quarter.
Through the first 10 minutes, Northwestern found themselves with a 17-7 lead, suffocating the Badgers’ offense to the tune of a 2-for-12 shooting performance from the visiting squad.
The offensive woes continued for Northwestern into the second quarter, but so did the dominance of the Wildcat defense. With 5:21 in the second quarter, Northwestern had scored just six points in the period, but kept Wisconsin to only two by forcing five turnovers in that time, giving the ‘Cats a comfortable 23-9 edge.
Despite picking up their productivity in the final five minutes of the half, the Badgers continued to look overmatched and overwhelmed on offense. They finished the half shooting 28.6% from the floor with 15 turnovers, and Northwestern had expanded its lead to 33-18 by the break.
The ‘Cats had their fair share of shooting woes, converting only 35.9% of their field goal attempts, but the smothering defense made it impossible for Wisconsin to make any sizeable dent in deficit they faced.
In the second half, it was Northwestern’s turn for offensive miscues. The ‘Cats began the half shooting just 1-for-5 from the floor and had three turnovers. Wisconsin, meanwhile, scored a quick five points to cut into the lead, but a second-chance jumper by Paige Mott and a fast break layup moments later brought the lead back to 15, with NU up 40-25 with 4:36 left in the third.
The Badgers continued to play well in the third, as they ended the period on a 5-0 run and chipped into the Northwestern lead, trailing only 43-32 by the quarter’s end. The ‘Cats scored only 10 points and committed seven turnovers in the period, and suddenly, Wisconsin could see light through the blizzard with their first real swing of momentum in the contest.
That momentum carried into the fourth quarter, as NU was unable to get anything to fall and the Badgers slowly found points where they could. For the first time since the first quarter, Northwestern held only a single-digit lead. Wisconsin’s defense continued to hold the ‘Cats in check and with 7:23 left to play, NU led just 43-36.
Sophomore forward Anna Morris subbed in shortly after and gave Northwestern their first points of the closing quarter with a baseline jumper, and four free throws from Burton expanded the lead to 10 once again.
Wisconsin tried one last time to pick up some offensive steam, but Northwestern’s defense stood strong with steals from Burton and Melannie Daley that turned into more points for the ‘Cats, putting NU up 12 and the game out of reach. Northwestern held strong in the final minutes and left Welsh-Ryan with a 61-49 win in their first match of 2021-22 Big Ten play.
The ‘Cats get a bit of break as the academic quarter comes to a close. The team next takes the court at home against the Delaware Blue Hens on Saturday, December 11.