What we learned from Northwestern’s heartbreaker loss to DePaul

Northwestern proved it can play with the best, but fell just short in a crosstown battle.

After two stress-free home wins over the last two weeks, first 69-48 over Valparaiso on Nov. 21, then 73-44 over Colgate on Nov. 27, the Northwestern Wildcats faced a much tougher task in the 17th-ranked DePaul Blue Demons on Dec. 1 in Evanston, and fell just short.

Despite grabbing a late lead against their crosstown foes on Sunday, a lack of execution down the stretch doomed a talented Wildcats squad bent on earning a ranking of their own. DePaul escaped Welsh-Ryan Arena with a 70-68 win.

It was a tight affair from start to finish highlighted by contrasting styles. DePaul frequently flexed its muscles on fastbreaks, winning that scoring battle 17-4 and extending leads when it needed to. But NU kept hanging around on the strength of its scoring in the paint, where the ‘Cats outscored the Blue Demons 40-22, partially thanks to a smooth press break that created easy lay-ups, and their formidable center Abbie Wolf, who contributed 18 points and five boards.

So while DePaul at one point led by eight, it never led by more than two at the end of any quarter on Sunday afternoon. This sequence of events played out to a T in the fourth quarter, when the Blue Demons twice stretched their lead to four and appeared poised to step on the gas. But with their backs against the wall, NU opened up a 13-6 extended run, capped off by a high-difficulty Lindsey Pulliam fadeaway from mid-range, to give the ‘Cats a 68-65 lead with 1:48 left.

DePaul called timeout, got back within one with a lay-up, then forced a Northwestern shot clock violation. Sydney Wood briefly bailed the ‘Cats out, though, stealing the ensuing inbounds pass, and dishing to Veronica Burton, who was fouled and sent to the line. It was all lining up nicely for the ‘Cats at this point; all they needed to do was make their free throws.

But Burton couldn’t. Both attempts rimmed out, which gave DePaul’s Sonya Morris the opportunity to give her team the 69-68 lead on the other end with a clutch jumper of her own with 22 seconds remaining. NU still had plenty of time to win, but quickly turned it over out of a timeout trying to feed Pulliam inside the lane. The ‘Cats needed to foul four times to send the Blue Demons to the line, which bled the clock down too far to leave them with any chance of a miracle victory. A controversial Soon the clock struck zero on their first loss of the season.

It’s sure to be a bitter pill to swallow for a team that showed it can compete and, with some better luck and execution, probably beat one of the top programs in the country. Nonetheless, there is plenty to be excited about as the ‘Cats continue their march through a challenging non-conference slate. And some slight causes for concern, of course.

Notes:

  • Byrdy Galernik, a longtime bench player whose role has been fluid in her time as a Wildcat, tallied a career-high 16 points against DePaul (on 6-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range) in just 15 minutes of action. NU has struggled to find consistent scoring this season against high-majors outside of Pulliam and the usual suspects, so getting contributions like this from the bench can’t hurt.
  • Speaking of the bench, NU’s outscored DePaul’s 23-4, after getting beaten in that category by both Valpo and Colgate. Pretty good!
  • Pulliam is always going to be this team’s rock and volume shooter, but she’s been a bit inefficient this season, scoring 105 points on 102 attempts (with 16 points on 16 attempts on Sunday). It’s nothing but a troubling trend for now, but something to keep an eye on.
  • You’ll have to excuse me for this metaphor, but Veronica Burton is this team’s Robin Hood. She’s tallied 24 steals and 32 assists in just *six* games. But she needs to get a little greedier: she’s been in single digits in scoring in four of those six.

The non-conference schedule continues in earnest on Wednesday night, when the ‘Cats host Boston College at 7 p.m.

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