The Wildcats are dancing. It’s been six years since Northwestern women’s basketball played in the NCAA Tournament, and after being projected to be a top-four seed in the 2020 event that was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is finally locked in to a tourney berth. NU earned the 7-seed in the Alamo Region and will face 10-seed UCF in the First Round. A win would likely set up a meeting with 2-seed Louisville.
Following the selection show, head coach Joe McKeown, senior guard Lindsey Pulliam and junior guard Veronica Burton spoke to the media. Here are three takeaways from the media availability.
These Wildcats are chomping at the bit
It has been a while, but the time is now. After having thought about what could have been last season for what seemed like forever, the Wildcats are officially in the NCAA Tournament. Finishing what they couldn’t last year has been a recurrent theme throughout the season, and if Monday’s press conference told us anything, it’s that NU will be juiced up to go Monday at 3 pm.
Head coach Joe McKeown has been to the Big Dance 18 times before, but he broke out some unique dance moves when Northwestern saw its name pop up on the screen.
That celebration captures NU’s current energy pretty well. Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam both vowed the team would be ready to go and the stage would not be too big.
Controlling the controllables
NU did everything in its power to earn a high seed in last year’s tournament, but as has been well established, COVID had other ideas. Their attention is now on taking care on what’s in front of them. That starts with 10-seed UCF. The Knights, who give up a nation-best 49.9 points per game, pose an interesting challenge to the defensive-minded Wildcats. The matchup has all the makings of a first-to-50 grinder, and Pulliam and Burton didn’t hesitate to espouse their confidence in themselves.
When asked about facing UCF’s defense, Pulliam simply said “we’re going to be better.” If that isn’t swagger. Burton brought up a point her coach and teammates have raised, which is that though NU has struggled with consistency, it has the ability to challenge top teams, as evidenced in its wins over then-No. 11 Ohio State and most recently No. 13 Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Focus on playing their game, and they like their chances.
“When we bring it, we can beat any team in the country, and I genuinely believe that,” Burton said.
The extended rest will serve NU well
Northwestern doesn’t play a large rotation, generally going about eight players deep. Most of those substitutions happen at the forward position, where Anna Morris and Paige Mott split time while Courtney Shaw was injured. Shaw returned for the Big Ten Tournament and averaged 20 minutes per game. Specifically, Pulliam, Burton and Sydney Wood need a breather. Pulliam averages nearly 37 minutes per night while the other two check in at just over 34 minutes a game, and those numbers are skewed from early season blowouts.
It’s the end of Winter Quarter, which means the ‘Cats are finishing up finals this week. Come later in the week when prep for UCF begins, NU will be locked in on the task at hand, especially since it plays on Monday and not Sunday. Shaw has more time to get up to full strength, McKeown may be able to experiment with a rare two-big lineup and his team will be locked and loaded in San Antonio.