Lindsey Pulliam scores 32, dedicates the game to Kobe Bryant

Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam shoots against Michigan on Jan. 30 (photo courtesy of Andy Brown)
Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam shoots against Michigan on Jan. 30 (photo courtesy of Andy Brown) /

Lindsey Pulliam scored 32, one shy of tying a career high, and paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after the game.

EVANSTON, ILL. — There is no playbook for public grief.

Jersey numbers have been altered, shot clock and eight-second violations have been committed, statements have been made, and anecdotes have been told. All of these tributes are public, and performed on one of the world’s biggest stages, making it easy to forget that grief is still an innately personal expression.

Lindsey Pulliam scored 32 points on Thursday night, her best output of the season and the second best of her college career. She did not mince words on what that signified for her, as a personal expression of grief, on a public stage.

“That game was for Kobe Bryant,” she said, as soon as her postgame press conference began. “He means so much to me and I took a lot from him, in terms of my mentality and some of the things in my game. [Northwestern athletic director Jim] Phillips just said in the locker room, 24 plus eight is 32. So, I don’t know what else to say.”

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The silence that followed in the small media room was heavy. Pulliam gazed ahead confidently, but clearly moved. Everybody present was afforded the moment to continue to reckon with their own grief, in their own way. Then the moment passed.

In truth, Pulliam’s game resembles Bryant’s very closely. She’s a shooter first, and always seems to find the ball in her hands when her team needs a basket. Her coach, Joe McKeown said as much.

“Our league is brutal,” he said. “The X’s and O’s become somewhat irrelevant, and you’ve got to just be like, ‘give me the ball and get out of the way. I got this.’ That’s why I recruited Pulliam, and that’s what she does.

“She’s going to take the next shot, and there’s a good chance she’s going to make it.”

She wasn’t alone in that endeavor on Thursday. After dropping a tough one at Maryland on Sunday, the ‘Cats showed a rowdy home crowd some of their very best offensive work of the season, staying close in a tight Big Ten race with an 81-73 win over Michigan. They moved to 8-2 in conference play, good for a tie for second behind Iowa, and 18-3 overall.

When the ‘Cats were at their best, they looked borderline unstoppable. At the heart of that effort was — I’ll give you one guess — Pulliam. She had, bar none, her most efficient game of the season (10-for-19), fueling her team past a sluggish second quarter to a third quarter where she made four of her five field goal attempts, and her team shot 57%.

Michigan hung around and kept things interesting, but by crunch time NU was rolling. At one point, in the waning minutes, every player in purple and white touched the ball on an electric full-court press break that led to a Pulliam bucket. Offensive rhythm has been in and out reach all season for this group, but it appears to be gelling at just the right time.

NU’s multi-dimensional offense was on display thanks to the following names:

  • Abi Scheid, after two uncharacteristically quiet games, logged 13 points. She disappeared a bit after a hot first quarter, which seemed to be due to Michigan sniffing her out on the pick-and-roll.
  • Veronica Burton quite nearly recorded a point-assists double-double, with seven and seven, and three steals. She is, statistically, a joy, and should be monitored in every game she plays.
  • Abbie Wolf, despite ceding quite a bit of post ground to dominant Wolverine center Naz Hillmon (27 points, eight rebounds), pitched in 12 points and seven rebounds.

But, per usual, Pulliam was in the spotlight all night long, honoring her hero in the best way she knew how — playing just like him.

“I told the coaches, ‘get me the ball,'” she said. “I felt like, ‘let’s close this thing out.’ And that’s how it happened.”

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