Tied for the lead in the Big Ten at 16-2, the ‘Cats have more than earned their first appearance in the poll since 2016.
The stars have finally aligned. After an impressive 16-2 start to the season, at long last, Northwestern has broken the plane of the AP Top 25 poll, debuting this week at No. 22.
All it took was six wins against teams in the national top 60 for RPI (as of Jan. 20), a 6-1 record in the Big Ten (tied for the lead), and a 5-0 record on the road, but the Wildcats were finally given the respect they’ve been waiting on for weeks from the AP voting corps. Only No. 19 Iowa and No. 11 DePaul have been able to take them down thus far in 2019-20.
“I think our kids are doing a great job and are really humble,” coach Joe McKeown told the AP. “This is a fun team to watch and we have a lot of fan support. It helps getting some national recognition. For our program, I’m glad to see people taking notice.”
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It is the program’s first appearance in the rankings since January 2016. And while this honor has been a long time coming this season, it was likely NU’s thrilling 71-69 overtime road win over No. 17 Indiana on Thursday night that pushed the ‘Cats over the top. They came back from a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, and scored the last five points of regulation in the final minute and change with a lay-up, a steal, and an old fashioned three-point play to tie the game at 62.
In overtime, a clutch three-pointer by Abi Scheid, who has carried the team offensively during Lindsey Pulliam’s extended shooting slump, followed by clutch free throws helped the ‘Cats erase another late deficit and put the game away. Scheid scored 40 points this week, helping her cross the 1,000-point threshold for her career.
Speaking of Pulliam, as of Sunday, she’s back, it seems. The junior guard scored 21 on 9-for-18 shooting in NU’s 85-59 rout of Penn State at home, helping the ‘Cats cement their well-deserved place in the Top 25. Scheid scored 24 and Abbie Wolf chipped in with 13.
Wolf, filling the shoes of all-time program great center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah after years of riding the bench, is arguably the story of the season for NU. She has now reached double figures in scoring in five of NU’s seven conference games.
At No. 16 in national RPI, there’s an argument to be made that NU’s No. 22 ranking in the AP poll is probably a tad low, especially since it is ranked behind two teams it has already beaten this season (Maryland and Indiana). Fortunately for the ‘Cats, they get a chance to prove themselves a second time against one of those teams this week, when they face off with the No. 20 Terrapins in College Park on Sunday.
But they would be remiss to overlook their trip to Michigan State on Thursday, as the Spartans have won three straight and took down a strong Rutgers team on Monday night.
It’s fair to say, however, that the ‘Cats have officially captured the nation’s attention. Now it’s their job to keep it, and, at the moment, be it on the court, on TikTok, or both, they appear to be more than up to the task.
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