After an up-and-down month of February, the holy grail month of college basketball started out with some good news for Northwestern: Courtney Shaw’s return from injury. The Wildcats faced a vaunted opponent in the Michigan Wolverines for Shaw’s return.
The ‘Cats battled against UM, but ultimately fell short by a score of 63-58. Heading into the Big Ten tournament, though, the contest provided a spark of hope that Northwestern could hang with the Big Ten elites.
Northwestern’s regular season was good enough to earn Joe McKeown’s squad a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. While it was a solid achievement, it was not good enough for a first round bye in the tournament.
Northwestern’s tournament kicked off with a matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini. The ‘Cats dominated the matchup from start to finish. NU finished the first half leading 38-8 as Illinois mustered only two points in the second quarter. Northwestern won the contest 67-42, setting up another matchup with No. 4 seed Michigan.
Northwestern and Michigan began the game in a deadlock as the two teams finished the first half tied at 30. In the second half, though, the Wildcats ran over the Wolverines. NU won the game 65-49 led by 25 points from Veronica Burton and 18 points from Lindsey Pulliam.
The win setup a match against No. 1 seed Maryland in the Big Ten semifinals. With plenty of momentum, many felt that the team that had won the Big Ten just one year earlier was back in form. Unfortunately, the Terps dominated the ‘Cats from the get go. Maryland ended the first quarter leading 22-15 and then outscored Northwestern 27-9 in the second quarter, leading the Wildcats by 25 at halftime. Northwestern ultimately fell 85-52, ending their championship aspirations, while Maryland went on to win the tournament.
Their strong performance in the Big Ten tournament meant that the Wildcats were awarded a No. 7 by the NCAA tournament selection committee, one that may have been a bit of an under-seeding. Regardless, the ‘Cats first matchup pitted them against another defensive stalwart in the UCF Knights. Of course, though, the game could not begin without the NCAA showing a few different egregious displays of inequality toward the female athletes.
First there were the hotel weight rooms, which quickly became a popular story.
WBB NCAA tournament weight room vs.— Malorie Henderlong (@14malorie) March 18, 2021
MBB NCAA tournament weight room
A lot is wrong here. pic.twitter.com/iAxB4zrrSf
There were also other acts that should have received far more attention than they did, as INU former EIC Lia Assimakopoulos pointed out.
1/ Now that I’m here in person, I have a lot of qualms about how the NCAA planned this tournament. They picked San Antonio for a reason meanwhile they have teams playing at a small, DII gym with no decorations or anything that indicate this is an NCAA Tournament game. pic.twitter.com/1eCWxu9vvq— Lia Assimakopoulos (@Lassimak) March 22, 2021
Regardless, the ‘Cats and UCF started out the contest closely. NU led by four at halftime and there were several lead changes throughout. UCF’s defense, which ranked No. 1 in opponent’s points per game entering the matchup, was giving the ‘Cats some fits. In the second half, however, NU was able to figure out the Knights defense a bit. Northwestern won 62-51 and Joe McKeown made headlines with his dance moves.
The real story from the game, however, was Lindsey Pulliam’s performance. She finished with 25 points along with three assists and three rebounds. Her emergence against UCF was a good sign going forward.
In the second round, Northwestern squared off with No. 2 seed Louisville. For a hot minute, it seemed like the Wildcats were primed for a deep March run. Northwestern, led by Jordan Hamilton (!), found itself leading 25-10 after the first quarter, in large part due to 12 first quarter points from Hamilton. The second quarter was low-scoring, and at halftime, NU maintained a 32-20 lead. So far, pretty comfortable.
Yet in the third quarter, Northwestern imploded. The ‘Cats missed layups free throws and just could not get the necessary stops to slow down Louisville. The Cardinals crawled all the way back from 12 points down to tie the game entering the fourth. Given the abhorrent third quarter, Northwestern performed well in the fourth, as the Wildcats were only down three points with less than two minutes left. In the end, however, the ‘Cats fell 62-53, ending their rollercoaster of a season in a difficult fashion.