By Jake Meister
Northwestern University women’s basketball hosted Purdue Sunday evening, emerging victorious after nearly squandering an 18-point lead.
The Wildcats grabbed their first win against the Boilermakers since 2016, squeaking out in a 61-56 nail biter. It marked the second straight game where NU head coach Joe McKeown’s team won by five points or less.
“In the locker room, we were disappointed,” senior Abbie Wolf said. “It really should’ve been a 15- to 20-point game at the end. We let them back into it.”
Wolf and junior guard Lindsey Pulliam pulled Northwestern through a series of offensive surges and struggles, the only two Wildcats to register double-digit points in the game. Wolf finished the night by recording her fourth career double-double. Without her offensive, McKeown’s side would have struggled to keep up with their Big Ten foes.
Northwestern attacked Purdue’s defense in the paint throughout the course of the game, relying heavily on Wolf. She took advantage of her 6-foot-4 frame, netting 18 of her 24 points via a layup or dunk while serving as the primary source of offense for Northwestern.
“My teammates gave me a lot of good looks,” Wolf said.
Northwestern went scoreless for more than two minutes early in the second quarter. McKeown called a timeout after the Wildcats went down by four and looked to stabilize his team. It proved to be a smart decision for the veteran coach, as his side proceeded to go on a 9-0 run after the stop in play. The Wildcats kept the defensive pressure on, forcing Purdue to miss six straight shots while creating a seven-point lead at halftime.
“I wanted to calm us down because I thought we were doing a great job,” McKeown said when asked about the timeout. “We were trying to play maybe a little too fast. We were forcing some things.”
Northwestern opened the second half on another run and extended its lead to 16 before Purdue scored again. Its offense continued to rely on Wolf and fellow senior forward Abi Scheid, as the duo combined for 26 of the team’s first 38 points.
The Wildcats struggled in the final frame, scoring just once in the first four minutes and missing 17 straight shots from the end of the third quarter and well into the fourth. This offensive dry spell allowed Purdue to cut the lead to two points, but Northwestern was able to make a key defensive stop and hit three free throws to seal the victory.
“It’s not how we want to finish games,” McKeown said. “Purdue is one of those dangerous teams. They can score very quickly.”
With the win, Northwestern made a case to crack the AP Top 25 on Monday based on a strong conference record and the 14 overall wins. However, the team remains on the outside looking in after receiving only 23 votes in the weekly rankings, falling well short of the 86 votes No. 25 South Dakota received. The Wildcats placed just one point behind placing in the polls last week despite losing by 26 to Iowa on January 5.
While the national recognition would be encouraging for the program, McKeown and his team remained focused on the task at hand.
“You’ve got to win games,” McKeown said. “The polls are what they are.”
Northwestern will visit the Indiana Hoosiers on Thursday in a game shaping up to be crucial in Big Ten play. After Sunday’s results, the Wildcats are tied with the Hoosiers, Rutgers and Iowa for first place in the conference.
“No days off,” Wolf said. “We have tomorrow to recover and then they’ll be on us the next two days in practice.”