Northwestern’s Thursday victory against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament was in no way an easy one for the Wildcats. It was not a blowout, nor a dominant performance by either side. But in a knockout competition, that’s simply not important.
What does matter is coming away with a win, even if the score is tied with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. That’s just what the ‘Cats did.
It was those final three-and-a-half minutes where Northwestern really showed why it deserved to move on, despite six missed free throws in a row that put the game into question. It was meant to be, and every single player on the roster — bench and all — was involved.
The final stretch began like so: first-year Jillian Brown fouled Minnesota’s Gadiva Hubbard under the basket, sending Hubbard to the line for two shots with the score in Northwestern’s favor, 55-54. Hubbard sank both, sending the Gophers back in front by one. Then, this happened:
Total. Team. Effort.
The play begins with a trademark left-handed drive to the basket by Veronica Burton. She rarely misses, but when she does, the onus is on her teammates to lift her back up, which is exactly what they did when the shot went wide off of the glass.
Courtney Shaw threw her body into the mix for the offensive board, which she grabbed. She then managed to pass the ball back out to Burton while falling full speed into the padding at the base of the basket.
“We had Courtney Shaw doing all the little things, all the dirty work, and sometimes it doesn’t always get the glory, but really that’s what ultimately won us those [close] games and this game especially,” said Burton of her teammate in the postgame press conference. “If she doesn’t save the ball from going out of bounds we wouldn’t have had that three. ”
Without Shaw’s effort under the basket, Laya Hartman may not have had a chance to set herself up before shooting her three. With limited time on the shot clock remaining, Hartman still managed to find a split second to regroup, receive a dime from Burton and then send off a three-ball that finally changed the course of the game.
“I thought it really took away some momentum Minnesota had gotten,” said Head Coach Joe McKeown on Hartman’s shot. “So I think it just, in a way, shut the door.”
Now up two thanks to Hartman, defending Minnesota’s next possession was essential for the ‘Cats to maintain their energy. Northwestern was fired up after taking the lead, and, fueled by the energy and cheers coming from the bench, the ‘Cats forced a bad pass out of the Gophers which was scooped up by Hartman. Hartman found Lauryn Satterwhite already on her way to the other end of the court, and the graduate student drove to the basket and sent in a layup just before the whistle blew to send her to the line for a chance at a three-point play.
She converted, handing the ‘Cats a 61-56 lead. After Satterwhite’s play, a little over a minute of scoreless play ensued, filled with misses on both ends. Finally, Burton was fouled and sent to the line for two, both of which she made, before the final 50 seconds of the game began.
It was in this last minute where Northwestern first jeopardized its win through abysmal free-throw shooting and then sealed the deal. The Wildcats’ six-consecutive misses from the line opened the door for Minnesota to surge back, and, in scoring twice, the Gophers brought themselves within three.
At this point, Northwestern had one objective: stop Sara Scalia. Minnesota’s pride and joy, Scalia is one of the best three-point shooters in the conference — if not the country — and her pinpoint accuracy from deep was the ‘Cats’ downfall in their loss to Minnesota just a few weeks ago.
When Satterwhite missed the last two of NU’s six-straight charity stripe opportunities, Minnesota grabbed the rebound and its coach, Lindsay Whalen, called timeout. Only 21 seconds remained on the clock for the ‘Cats to hold on to the lead, and 21 seconds remained for Scalia to pull UMN back even.
Satterwhite was not going to let that happen. After missing her two shots, she redeemed herself quickly on the other end of the court where she made the biggest play of her career: a block of Scalia on a potentially game tying three-ball just before the end of regulation.
The bench erupted as Burton grabbed the ball out of the air off the tips of Satterwhite’s fingers. The game was all but won.
“I believe that shot honestly probably would have went in if it wasn’t blocked,” Burton said.
Satterwhite’s game-saving play was the icing on the cake. From there, it was smooth sailing as the final seconds ticked away. No, it wasn’t pretty. But again, it was a win, which is all that mattered.
With a victory under their belts and the confidence that everyone on the team can make big plays when needed, the ‘Cats are prepared to head into their next matchup against Iowa with momentum at their backs.
“We needed some people to step up, and other players got involved,” McKeown said. “I thought that we needed that, we needed that push.”