INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — Beating a team three times in a season isn’t easy, but after 13 straight wins, it’s safe to say Northwestern has Illinois’ number.
For the first time since Joe McKeown arrived in Evanston in 2008, the Wildcats defeated a team three times in a year, as they knocked off the Illini 67-42 in their first matchup of the 2021 Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Wildcats annihilated the Illini in the first half, and their 30-point halftime lead was ultimately enough to advance them to the next round.
Postseason Lindsey Pulliam was in full effect with a game-leading 21-point performance. She shot 10-for-19 from the field and had nine rebounds. Veronica Burton wasn’t far behind with 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. Sydney Wood added 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the win.
The first few minutes of the matchup were slow for the Wildcats who were tied with the Illini four minutes into the game. Pulliam started 0-for-4 from the field, shooting on four of NU’s first seven possessions. However, Courtney Shaw came in off the bench and immediately jumpstarted Northwestern’s offense and defense. In her first three minutes on the court, she recorded six points and a rebound, bringing the necessary energy to spark 6-0 and 8-0 runs in the final five minutes of the quarter.
After starting 1-for-9 from the field, NU shot 8-for-12 in the latter half of the quarter and scored 16 of its 18 points in that stretch. Northwestern led 18-6 after the first.
If there was any question about NU’s chances after its slightly rocky start, the Wildcats proved why they are a tournament team in the next 10 minutes. Northwestern scored the first nine points of the second quarter, building up to a 17-0 run that started at the 2:37 mark of the first quarter. After eight scoreless minutes, Jana Peebles connected on a free throw to end the Illini’s scoring drought.
But Northwestern’s defense continued to terrorize, not allowing Illinois to make a single field goal in the second quarter and forcing eight turnovers. The Illini finished the frame with two points from the charity stripe, and Northwestern extended its lead to 30 at the half.
The Illini finally solved their shooting woes early in the second half, outscoring Northwestern 14-6 and chipping away at the Wildcat lead in the half’s early minutes. But Pulliam refused to let them fight back into it, as the All-Big Ten guard scored 11 of NU’s 15 points in the third quarter.
Shaw and Paige Mott spent most of the quarter on the bench, meaning rebounding was an area where NU struggled. The Wildcats were out-rebounded 12-to-8, including 4-to-2 on the offensive glass. The Illini also scored nine second-chance points and cut away a third of Northwestern’s halftime lead. NU maintained a 53-33 lead after three.
The pace slowed in the fourth, but the Wildcats were able to extend their lead slightly with continued strong play from their starters. With four minutes remaining, McKeown brought in the subs, and the second string finished the game, maintaining a 25-point margin of victory.
Kennedi Myles led the Illini with 10 points and nine rebounds. Jeanae Terry added nine points and seven boards.
The Wildcats will have a chance to get revenge on Michigan in the tournament quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon — the team that knocked them out of the tournament last year and already defeated them twice already this season.