Coming off of a difficult loss at No. 5 Indiana, Northwestern remained on the road, this time traveling down to Urbana-Champaign to take on Illinois. The Illini came into the game with a worst in the Big Ten record of 6-16. Despite that, however, the Wildcats took them seriously, not allowing U of I to take an early lead and eventually pulling away in the second half. Here are three takeaways from Northwestern’s 23-point victory over its in-state rival:
Courtney Shaw remains a crucial piece for the ‘Cats
If there was any doubt surrounding Courtney Shaw’s role in Northwestern’s offense prior to Sunday’s win over Illinois, those questions were answered very promptly. Shaw was a dominant force throughout the victory, finishing with a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. She routinely got herself open looks in the paint and was the driving force behind much of the Wildcats’ offense.
In a conference chalked full of talented centers, Shaw’s contributions may sometimes be overlooked. With that in mind, she was, without a doubt, crucial in NU’s win over Illinois, posting a career performance. It was a show she’ll hopefully be able to replicate more down the stretch.
Veronica Burton deserves to be the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year
This might be a bit of a biased take, considering our collective love for Veronica Burton, but after yesterday’s performance, Burton has to be genuinely considered to win the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
Let’s be honest, Burton should have already been considered beforehand, but that was prior to her recording an absurd NINE steals against the Illini. She finished with a stat line of 13 points, 14 assists, nine steals and four rebounds. On the season, Burton has recorded 95 steals in 24 games and is averaging 3.96 steals per game, which comes in at number one in the country. Her defensive impact has been monumental for the ‘Cats, and if she can close out the season on a high note, there’s no doubt she’ll be a finalist — and might have a shot at winning — the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Aaliyah Nye has a promising career ahead
Look, Illinois has struggled. We all know that. The Illini are 1-11 in Big Ten play this season and 6-17 overall. There are a multitude of reasons as to why Illinois is at where it’s at, but Aaliyah Nye’s play has not been one of them.
Just a sophomore, Nye caused all sorts of problems early on for Northwestern, hitting a couple of threes and stretching the Blizzard a bit thin. She ended up finishing with 15 points, all of which came from three-pointers. On the season, Nye is averaging 11.9 points per game, but in recent performances against Ohio State and Nebraska, she has posted 25 and 23 points, respectively. As we get into next season, Nye will 100% be a player to watch out of Champaign, even if the Illini aren’t doing too hot in conference play.