Indianapolis, Indiana — For the first time since 2016, Northwestern will be playing in a Big Ten Tournament semi-final. The fifth-seeded ‘Cats (15-7, 13-7 B1G) avenged last year’s Big Ten Tournament loss and defeated fourth-seeded Michigan (14-5, 11-5 B1G) 65-49 in its best performance of the season so far.
Veronica Burton put in another everyman performance, recording 25 points, 13 rebounds and 3 steals. Lindsey Pulliam, now at 1,995 career points, also continued her latest run of consistency, adding 18. Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon served as the main source of offense for Michigan, scoring 26 points with 12 rebounds.
The energy in Bankers Life Fieldhouse was palpable. The few fans permitted in the arena, as well as the benches, gave this game the postseason atmosphere it deserved.
Pulliam set the tone early with a triple and a mid-range jumper on consecutive possessions to give the ‘Cats an early lead. NU’s two main post players, Paige Mott and Courtney Shaw, picked up two fouls apiece early, forcing freshman Anna Morris into the unenviable position of guarding Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon. Shaw, in her third game back since returning from injury, did not return for the rest of the half. Morris would later pick up three fouls in a two-minute span, putting all of NU’s forwards in a perilous position. Northwestern still held their own on the boards and forced Wolverines into some awkward shots. They only converted on 25% of their field goal attempts in the first quarter.
Veronica Burton asserted herself as Northwestern’s main catalyst. She scored eight points in the first frame, highlighted by an acrobatic and-one off a fast break. The ‘Cats led 17-13 after one.
Michigan began to get more quality looks in the paint while the ‘Cats struggled to score. A quick 4-0 run from the Wolverines to tie the game at 19 induced a Northwestern timeout with just under seven minutes remaining in the half. The Wolverines took their first lead of the ballgame following the timeout, but Northwestern responded with a quick 5-0 run of its own to take a 24-21 lead.
The two teams kept up with each other for the final five minutes of the half. Michigan utilized its size advantage effectively, scoring nearly two-thirds of their first-half points from the paint. The Wolverines did not attempt a three-pointer for the entire quarter. Northwestern struggled from the field in the first half, shooting only 17 percent in the second quarter. The ‘Cats relied on some timely outside shooting and the free-throw line to generate points. That was enough to keep them level with the Wolverines at 30 going into the break.
Shaw reentered the game when the second half started, and the ‘Cats immediately grabbed the game’s momentum. Hillmon struggled to finish in the paint, while Northwestern’s shots began to fall. It used an 8-2 run to begin the half and take a 38-32 lead. Michigan came within two points thanks to Hillmon’s post presence, but Pulliam, who scored eight in the quarter, started to heat up. Michigan’s shooting woes continued as the ‘Cats went into the fourth quarter up eight, 46-38.
The Wildcats began to pull away in the final frame thanks to triples from Burton, Wood and Lauryn Satterwhite, stretching their lead to 14. A scary moment occurred halfway through the quarter when Shaw took a hard foul and struggled to get back up. She returned to the floor after the media timeout.
Michigan struggled from the field all afternoon. They ended the game shooting a mere 29 percent. Outside of Hillmon, the Wolverines could muster very little offense despite only 13 turnovers on that side of the court. The ‘Cats shot under 40 percent, but their defense gave them the momentum to convert on some timely shots to run the Maize and Blue out of the building.
Northwestern will face one-seed Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals on Friday at 1 p.m. CST.