By Ben Friedl
Despite recording her 1000th career rebound for Northwestern women’s basketball, senior center Pallas Kunayi-Akpanah and the Wildcats narrowly missed completing the season-sweep against Nebraska Thursday, losing by a score of 71-64.
Nebraska was able to jump out to an early lead thanks to stand out first half shooting performance. The Cornhuskers shot 58.3 percent in the first half, scoring a massive 40 points against a Northwestern defense that has been one of the most effective in the Big 10 Conference this season.
Meanwhile, with only 26 points along with a 34 percent shooting percentage in the first half, Northwestern needed to turn things around. Midway through the third quarter sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam scored a crucial basket through traffic, ultimately drawing a foul. Pulliam fist pumps and yells over to her teammates, clearly indicating a change in momentum.
At the start of the third quarter, Kunayi-Akpanah was only one rebound away from eclipsing 1000 total rebounds in her collegiate playing career. And in the midst of Northwestern’s 8-0 third quarter scoring run, Pallas powerfully used her 6-foot-2 frame to climb over two Nebraska players, securing her 1000th career rebound.
“It’s really huge just to be able to contribute to Northwestern basketball. Just to be listed in the history books is a huge milestone for me.” Pallas said.
With this milestone, Pallas now sits second in rebounds in Northwestern women’s basketball history, just behind current WNBA Las Vegas Aces player Nia Coffey.
“I had the chance to play beside her for two years and watch how she plays with such poise and skill,” said Pallas. “To be able to follow in her footsteps and to be alongside her in the history books is really huge for me.”
Head coach Joe McKeown said he will not only remember Pallas for her on court achievements, but also for the special person she was off the court.
Not many people realize how funny she actually is- which our team really appreciates,” said McKeown, addressing the media after the game. “The way she interacts with our fans and the other student athletes at Northwestern is special.”
McKeown, who coached Kunayi-Akpanah for her entire collegiate playing career, helped recruit her to come play at Northwestern.
“I’ll always remember going down to watch her play when she was in boarding school in Georgia,” said McKeown. “Seeing her playing tennis with these kids- it was like Serena Williams coming to the net but then all of a sudden she’d dink the ball – so nobody got hurt.”
Pallas Kunayi-Akpanah will go down in history as one of the greatest players ever to play for Northwestern’s women’s basketball team. But in the meantime, Pallas would need to turn up the pressure in the fourth quarter if she was to help her team complete the comeback against Nebraska.
Pallas scored 8 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the fourth quarter alone. Meanwhile, back to back 3 pointers from junior forward Abi Scheid helped Northwestern to an 11-0 run, bridging the gap between themselves and Nebraska to just five points.
However, after crucial three-pointers from Nebraska guard Hannah Whitish, the Cornhuskers were able to once again lengthen their lead in the dying moments of the fourth quarter. Whitish, who was an all-preseason Big 10 selection, finished the game with 19 points, 15 of which were scored via 3-point shots.
Northwestern, showed heart and fight in bringing a 20-point Nebraska lead down to 5-points in the final moments of the game. But in the end, starting slow was too much to overcome.
“It’s never fun to have to claw back. You are so close to winning and it just slips through your fingers,” said Pallas.
With this loss, Northwestern are now in a four-way-tie for sixth place in the Big 10 with an 8-8 conference record.
Pallas and the rest of the Wildcats will be back at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday at 7pm to celebrate their last home game of the season against conference rivals Indiana.