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Rapid Reaction: After early struggles, Northwestern holds on against Illinois in 67-61 victory

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Northwestern recovered from an early deficit to extend its 12-game winning streak over Illinois.

Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

After a slow start, Northwestern (13-5, 11-5 B1G) overcame in-state rivals Illinois (3-16, 1-14 B1G) 67-61 for their 12th straight win in the series, thanks in large part to to a staggering 35-6 run that encompassed the entire second quarter. Veronica Burton led the charge with 20 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals, and a perfect 12-of-12 performancefrom the free throw line. Lindsey Pulliam contributed 19 points and eight boards of her own, though it took her 21 shots to get there.

Northwestern’s last few games had seen them struggle mightily in second halves. The inverse occurred at the State Farm Center against the last-placed team in the conference, with the ‘Cats starting 0-of-13 from the field and looking disoriented and disorganized on the offensive end of the floor. The Illini took advantage of Northwestern’s early struggles to build an 18-4 lead, thanks to a sequence of three consecutive triples. NU’s only points in the first nine minutes of the game came from Burton free throws, before the junior finally hit the team’s first shot from the field.

The ‘Cats found their feet toward the end of the first frame and pulled within 10 at its close, and the second quarter was the reverse of the first. They immediately embarked on a 12-0 run to take the lead for the first time, bookended by two Lauryn Satterwhite triples. The redshirt junior finished the game with 9 points, a career high.

On the other end of the court, Illinois went through an even worse malaise than the one their counterparts endured early, failing to hit a field goal for almost 12 minutes. In the final 13 minutes of the half, Northwestern outscored its opponent 27-4, going into the dressing room up 31-22.

The ‘Cats’ momentum continued into the second half. A 6-0 run forced an Illini timeout early in the quarter as NU stretched their lead to 15. Some good post play from Eva Rubin saw Illinois cut the lead back to 10, but a Jordan Hamilton steal and a Pulliam triple commenced another Wildcat run.

A solid shooting display saw the Illini keep things interesting throughout the fourth quarter, outscoring the ‘Cats and cutting the lead to as few as five multiple times and even getting it down to four with an Aaliyah Nye three. Northwestern struggled to close out an inferior opponent, with the shooting struggles that plagued them early on and for much of the past month returning with a vengeance. The free-throw game took up the final minute of the contest, and though Illinois kept fighting, Burton and Pulliam closed it out at the charity stripe.

Solape Amusan and Jada Peebles led the way for the Illini with 15 apiece, a career-high for the former. Kennedi Myles added a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Nye rounded out the team’s double-digit scorers with 11 of her own.

Northwestern’s Blizzard defense proved to be a decisive factor in the game, forcing 29 turnovers on 73 Illinois possessions. Sydney Wood had her worst offensive day of the season for the Wildcats, scoring just five points and turning the ball over five times, while Jordan Hamilton had difficulties as well, putting up just six points on ten shots. Paige Mott added five.

NU will host No. 8 Maryland on Sunday for its penultimate regular season game on the current schedule, with potential makeups still unclear, before traveling to Ann Arbor next weekend to close out the Big Ten slate.