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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern women’s basketball drops regular season finale 63-58 to Michigan

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Now, it’s all eyes on the Big Ten Tournament.

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Northwestern (13-7, 11-7 B1G) fell to Michigan for the third straight time in their final matchup of the regular season, cementing themselves as the fifth seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week. Despite a solid defensive performance from the ‘Cats, NU was never able to catch up on the offensive side of the ball, continuing a theme over the last few matchups of the regular season.

The relatively low-scoring game finished with both teams shooting below 40%. But although scoring nearly 15 points fewer than their season-average 77.2 points per game, the Wolverines hung on to their lead to earn an extra day of rest next week. Despite Veronica Burton showing up on offense with 19 points, Lindsay Pulliam had an off day, shooting just 4-17 from the field, and no other Wildcat reached double-digits in a game where it came down to offense in the end.

The first quarter began in somewhat of a stalemate, with both teams finishing only one of their first three shot-attempts. However, it was only a matter of time before Michigan heated up behind the arc, sending in two early threes to take a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the half. Northwestern had trouble on offense early on—missing five of their first seven attempts only to be saved by a Burton three.

Burton’s success was one of two bright spots for the ‘Cats in the opening frame, the second of which came in the form of Courtney Shaw’s first appearance since she sustained a lower leg injury in January. Other than that, NU endured a five minute scoring drought and one singular successful shot attempt by Shaw to miraculously end the quarter only six points down.

Northwestern’s defense held off the Michigan attack well to begin the second frame, causing three turnovers in the first two minutes. A Pulliam three then sent the ‘Cats on a 7-0 run, shaving the lead to one at 17-16.

Michigan came out of their funk as Amy Dilk and Akienreh Johnson contributed one triple each and Naz Hillmon drove in for a layup, increasing the Wolverines’ lead to seven with two minutes to go. However, two layups and a turnaround jumper for Shaw pulled the ‘Cats within two before another Michigan three maintained their lead once again before half.

Northwestern finished the half with 25 points to Michigan’s 30 with only three Wildcats in Pulliam, Burton and Shaw contributing to the scoreline. While the Wolverines prevailed in both shooting and rebounding, it was defense that kept the ‘Cats in the game, garnering seven steals and forcing 12 turnovers.

That being said, Northwestern’s defense did not look quite the same to begin the third—Michigan began the half with a 6-0 run before a timeout was called by McKeown two-and-a-half minutes in. The Wolverines then continued to pour it on and jump out to an 13-point lead, the largest margin of the game to that point. Despite the deficit, NU came out of their drought with three layups of their own after missing a trio at the rim to begin the quarter, with the makes coming as the first points of the game for both Paige Mott and Sydney Wood.

Michigan standout Hillmon found her groove, though, putting in six points. A steal by Shaw then sent the ‘Cats on a run spearheaded by Burton, who made four consecutive layups of increasing difficulty to pull the ‘Cats back within single digits. Two free throws by Hillmon and a left-handed dump by Wood sent both teams into the final ten minutes with only nine points separation at 50-41.

Both teams traded off points at the beginning of the final frame, the possibility of a win still dangling in front of the Wildcats while the Wolverines maintained a somewhat comfortable lead. Points by Mott, Pulliam and Shaw pulled the Wildcats within four about halfway through the quarter, but that was as close as the ‘Cats would come to overtaking their opponent. An opportunity for Hamilton was blocked by Hailey Brown, who took advantage of the turnover to send in a pivotal three, again maintaining the Michigan lead.

From there, the Wolverines made enough free throws, despite a few misses, to finish out a five-point victory. Michigan finished with three players scoring in double figures, the most notable performances coming from Hillmon, who was a bit below her averages and committed six turnovers despite her double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Johnson, who added 19 and nine boards.

For the Wildcats, Shaw had nine points in seven boards in just 19 minutes, and was the only NU player with a positive plus-minus in her auspicious return to the court. Wood added nine of her own, all coming in the second half.

Northwestern will begin their Big Ten Tournament run next Wednesday, March 10 against the winner of the tournaments singular Tuesday matchup between the bottom two seeds, Illinois and Wisconsin.