The Wildcats won an ugly one over Boston College before blowing out two mid-majors at home.
After a heartbreaking home loss to DePaul on Dec. 1, the Northwestern Wildcats, who’d previously been slowly trending towards a top 25 ranking, seemed doomed to tread water for a while. Boston College, Dartmouth and UT-Arlington aren’t necessarily a list of teams that should strike fear into the heart of a team aiming for an NCAA Tournament bid, especially at home.
And tread water the Wildcats did, knocking off the Eagles, Big Green and Mavericks in succession over the first half of December, while continuing to build on the stout record (8-1) they will need to maintain before entering the brutal months of Big Ten play.
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While the ‘Cats dispatched of the latter two teams with ease, getting by a middling Boston College team on Dec. 4, just a few days removed from the emotional loss to DePaul, was more trouble than they’d likely anticipated. The Eagles kept it close from start to finish, aided by cold Northwestern shooting and a rare night when scoring was concentrated in the hands of only a couple of Wildcats.
Fortunately for NU, one of those Wildcats was the indomitable Lindsey Pulliam. She scored 25 (for already the third time this season) with an efficient 10-of-16 shooting performance, highlighted by a clutch late jumper and two free throws to put the game on ice in the final two minutes.
But with no other starters reaching double figures in scoring, somebody from the bench needed to step up. That somebody, for a second straight game, was Byrdy Galernik. Galernik reached 13 points in just 17 minutes on the floor (after scoring 16 in 15 minutes against DePaul), giving NU the boost it absolutely needed when buckets weren’t falling.
While the Wildcats escaped with a 66-63 win, two stats stand out that are of immediate concern. BC out-rebounded NU 53-29, and dominated second-chance scoring 24-6. Abbie Wolf and co. have been reliable all season, and more than held their own against a formidable DePaul team, but can ill afford any repeat performances of Dec. 4 once conference play rolls around soon.
Dartmouth provided a welcome respite for the battle-weary Wildcats on Dec. 7, and they showed their Ivy League visitors no mercy from the beginning. At the half, NU led 43-14, and rode 56% team shooting to a 79-37 win. Pulliam scored 16, albeit on 19 field goal attempts, but it didn’t matter thanks to Wolf and fellow giant Abi Scheid combining for 28 points on 14 attempts. Of note, again, though: Dartmouth out-rebounded the ‘Cats 34-32.
Finals week meant no basketball for nine days, but on a raucous youth field trip day at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Dec. 16, NU showed no signs of rust. The ‘Cats toppled UT-Arlington 74-47, riding a 27-8 first quarter run and never looking back. Pulliam and Scheid scored 17 and 15 in a business-as-usual performance, but Veronica Burton was the star of the show with her 13 point, seven rebound and eight assist performance.
Burton has been extremely consistent as a distributor and theft this season, but the team has felt slightly incomplete without her putting up the scoring she’s capable of. On Monday, she finally did, going 3-for-5 from long distance, by far her best performance of the year. And she still snagged two steals, by the way. So she’s up to 32 in nine games, meaning you can count on about 3.5 from her in a given game. She is, without exaggeration, Northwestern’s Woman of Steal.
Of note, again, the ‘Cats only won the rebounding battle over the Mavericks 38-37.
With finals in the rearview mirror, NU will head to Florida for the West Palm Invitational for two final non-conference tilts on Friday and Saturday with East Carolina and Xavier, who are a combined 4-15 this season. It’s, on paper, a perfect opportunity for the ‘Cats to take care of business and work out their rebounding issues.
Following the Xavier game, they’ll have exactly one week to patch up any and all loose ends before they travel to Illinois to kick off Big Ten play on Dec. 28. Then, as is often said, the real season starts.
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