March S[imulation]adness: Northwestern will square off with Stanford in Sweet 16

Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam shoots against Nebraska on Feb. 16. (Photo courtesy of Andy Brown)
Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam shoots against Nebraska on Feb. 16. (Photo courtesy of Andy Brown) /

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Lindsey Pulliam put on the show she’s been waiting to perform. Does the road end in Dallas?

Northwestern has now officially gone where no Northwestern basketball team, men’s or women’s, has ever gone before: the Sweet 16.

After breezing by the always tough, sixth-seeded Missouri State Bears, 77-62 in front of another packed house in Evanston, the third-seeded Wildcats head south to Dallas to face an even tougher challenge: the second-seeded Stanford Cardinal.

NU has been relying on its depth all year, but sometimes your stars have no choice but to take the reigns. With the Bears making a point to neutralize Abi Scheid on the perimeter, Wildcat guard Lindsey Pulliam couldn’t afford an inefficient shooting night. Though she is well deserving of her All-American honorable mention honors, Pulliam has had her cold stretches over the course of this season, including her team’s first tournament win over UTEP.

Fortunately for the ‘Cats, she delivered this time, scoring 26 on 9-for-14 shooting, while also grabbing seven rebounds. It was the performance Northwestern desperately needed, and has come to expect no matter how her most recent game, or most recent shot, turned out.

“No matter what’s going on, how many shots she’s taken, how many shots she’s missed, it doesn’t matter,” sophomore guard Veronica Burton told Brian Hamilton of The Athletic last week. “Because the next one is going in. That’s something I honestly look up to. When you have someone who never really thinks they’re going to lose a game, never really thinks they’re going to miss a shot, you start believing it, too, regardless of what actually happens.”

Burton contributed a seemingly quiet 14 point, eight assist, six steal night, and Abbie Wolf went for eight points and ten rebounds. Both will be called upon in a difficult matchup with the Cardinal at American Airlines Arena.

The dynamic guard duo of Kiana Williams, Stanford’s versatile junior All-American, and Lexie Hull, a sophomore who routinely scores in the 20s and rebounds in double digits, is sure to pose challenges for the ‘Cats. Haley Jones, who has burst onto the scene in her first season at the college level to become one of the Cardinal’s best options on the interior, will also be a matchup battle for NU.

The ‘Cats generally try to stay away from the lane unless they absolutely have to be there, but may be forced to test the waters if Stanford takes a page out of Michigan’s book and denies them the perimeter. If that’s the case, and Pulliam regresses to a colder form, it could be the end of the road for a magical season.

My prediction: Stanford 71, Northwestern 64. The Card have only lost twice in 2020 to teams not named Oregon, and their scoring depth proves too much for even NU coach Joe McKeown’s famed, fearsome “Blizzard” defense.

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