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Women’s basketball post-mortem, February: A love-hate relationship

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This month brought Maryland, and that’s never good.

Twitter @nuwbball

After the first month of the new year ended with one of Northwestern’s best defensive performances of the season in a win over Iowa, February loomed with some serious competition ahead for the ‘Cats.

The ‘Cats kicked off February in rollicking fashion with a win over the talented Ohio State. In typical NUWBB fashion, junior Veronica Burton and senior Lindsey Pulliam led the way as they each posted a double-double, and Burton nearly going a step further as she finished just one assist shy of a triple-double. The team showed out again defensively, snagging a season-high 46 rebounds and forcing Ohio State to tack on 21 fouls throughout the night.

The momentum began to fade as Northwestern narrowly slipped past Michigan State, holding the Spartans off despite losing the lead with just four minutes left in the game. Once again, Burton and Pulliam powered the offense with 19 and 22 points, respectively.

After these two wins, the ‘Cats received a rude awakening as they returned home. Rutgers came off over a month-long break from games due to COVID and rolled over the ‘Cats, who struggled to fall into their normal offensive rhythm. Despite shrinking the lead to just two points late in the game, neither of Northwestern’s stars in the backcourt were able to close that final gap, and the Scarlet Knights went on a run to end the night in a 70-54 defeat for the ‘Cats, putting a halt to any hopes of a prolonged win streak.

Following the loss (and a one-week break due to Northwestern’s rematch with Ohio State being postponed), NU was unable to get out of the rut and fell to Nebraska for the second time in the 2020-2021 season. In the first half of the game, the ‘Cats looked like they had everything going for them. They built up a comfortable lead, tallied 12 steals and to boot had only committed one turnover. Pulliam ended the night by surpassing 20 points once again, while senior Jordan Hamilton posted her first career double-double. Despite this effort, Nebraska rallied in the second half as Northwestern struggled to make shots, and the game went down as another loss for the ‘Cats.

Nevertheless, Joe McKeown’s squad bounced back that same week and easily beat Wisconsin for the second time on the season. Northwestern played a fast game in Evanston that night, scoring 17 fast break points in the opening half of action. The Badgers couldn’t keep up and were thwarted as the Wildcats racked up 11 steals on the game.

Largely due to the loss against Nebraska, the previously ranked No. 24 Wildcats dropped out of the top-25, ending a period of 22 consecutive weeks up there with the best teams in college basketball. This would mark the last time Northwestern was ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll during the 2021 season.

On a brighter note, the ‘Cats got some much deserved recognition when Veronica Burton was named a National Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist. Burton is known for being a huge threat in the backcourt, especially with her ability to steal the ball and force turnovers.

Northwestern followed the rout of Wisconsin with another win, this time on the road to complete its season sweep of Illinois. The defense was again on display in full force, as all seven Northwestern players that stepped on the court that night recorded at least one steal. The same-old story rang true on offense, as Burton and Pulliam led the ‘Cats with 20- and 19-point performances.

To round out the month, Northwestern hosted senior day at Welsh-Ryan Arena, facing (at the time) top-10 Maryland for the first time all season. The Wildcats honored four seniors — Brooke Pikiell, Lauryn Satterwhite, Jordan Hamilton and Lindsey Pulliam — and held Maryland to their lowest point total all year. The Terps came into the game averaging over 90 points, yet Northwestern’s blizzard defense held them to a mere 62.

Unfortunately, their immense defensive success just wasn’t enough to overcome the superior Maryland Terrapins. Poor shooting plagued the ‘Cats, and they ended the month on a loss, with the Big Ten Tournament approaching as an opportunity for revenge in March.