INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — It wasn’t always pretty, but all the Northwestern Wildcats (17-11, 9-8 B1G) needed to do was survive and advance, and that they did.
In a grueling battle with Minnesota (14-17, 7-11 B1G), NU emerged victorious behind a late run that gave them an ultimately needed cushion in the final seconds of play.
Per usual, Veronica Burton led the way for the ‘Cats, scoring 18 points and adding eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals. She was not unassisted, though, as Courtney Shaw put up a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, Lauryn Satterwhite came alive late to chip in 15 points and seven boards and Jillian Brown posted 11 points and nine rebounds. For the Gophers, Sara Scalia and Kadiatou Sissoko earned 18 points apiece and combined for 17 rebounds.
Scalia opened the game’s scoring true to form with a three, which Shaw answered with a three-point play of her own on Northwestern’s first possession of the game. After the Gophers pulled ahead 9-6 early with the help of four points from Bagwell Katalinich, the ‘Cats were able to create some chaos on the defensive end and spouted off a 9-0 run to give themselves a 15-9 lead at the first media break.
A drive to the rim and score from Brown on the first play out of the timeout extended NU’s run to 11-0 and the lead to eight, but Scalia answered immediately with another three to pull her team within five. Burton responded with two free throws, but Minnesota closed the first quarter with four unanswered points to leave NU’s lead at 19-16.
UMN’s run continued into the second quarter, as they began with two consecutive layups to regain the lead. After Shaw broke the run with a make at the rim of her own, the Wildcats went ice cold, failing to score for 5:06. This allowed the Golden Gophers to go on an 8-0 run that left them with a 28-21 lead. A suave move and dish from Burton to Shaw resulted in a bucket that broke the lengthy NU scoring famine and cut the Minnesota lead to five. Burton continued to dazzle soon thereafter, intercepting a UMN pass, taking it all the way to the rim and converting on and-one to cut the Gophers’ lead to three.
After Minnesota’s Sissoko hit only one of two free throw attempts on the ensuing possession, Shaw laid another one in. Just like that, NU had closed the half on a 7-1 run and cut the Minnesota lead to just one, with the score standing at 29-28 midway through.
The ‘Cats got off to a hot start in the third quarter, hitting 4-of-5 from the field to open the latter half of play, the last of which — a three from Brown — prompted UMN coach Lindsay Whalen to call a timeout with her team down 37-33. Her decision didn’t change much immediately, though, as NU, working through Caileigh Walsh, hit two of its next three of attempts and still led by three at the media break.
A Minnesota three after the TV timeout evened the score, and from that point forward, the teams traded baskets to close out the frame. After six lead changes in the last four minutes of third quarter play, NU headed into the fourth atop by the slimmest of margins, leading 49-48.
In the early goings of the final period of regulation, the ‘Cats received no help from the officials. They called four fouls in quick succession on NU including Shaw’s fourth on what was light contact, to put it kindly. With Shaw benched, the Golden Gophers took advantage of a number of opportunities at the rim, allowing them to keep pace with the Wildcats. By the time the last media timeout of regulation rolled around, the score was knotted at 54.
Both teams got to the line in their first possessions out of the break, but the Wildcats cashed in on just one of their two chances from the stripe, whereas the Gophers hit both shots, giving them a one point edge. The momentum shifted back in the ‘Cats’ favor on their next turn with the ball, when Shaw athletically saved a ball from going out of bounds into the hands of Burton, who dished to an open Laya Hartman. The junior wing cleanly nailed the three, starting what would become an 8-0 run that put NU in strong position to win.
The Wildcats didn’t make it easy on themselves, though, missing six consecutive free throws that could’ve otherwise put the game out of reach in the final minute. Still, the Northwestern defense performed when it needed to most, stopping two three-point attempts that could’ve tied things up in the final 25 seconds of play. Burton sank two shots from the line to put the contest away and secure a 65-50 win for NU.
The Wildcats will now face Big Ten co-Champion No. 12 Iowa tomorrow at 5:30 CT.