Northwestern Women's Basketball Wins Big Ten Title

Northwestern Women's Basketball Wins Big Ten Title

Veronica Burton with a layupVeronica Burton has helped lead the Wildcats to an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The college basketball season is a long, bumpy road. Even for the Big Ten champion Northwestern women’s team, which boasts five scholar-athletes enrolled in the School of Education and Social Policy, including sophomore Veronica Burton (Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, second-team All-Big Ten); Abi Scheid (First-team All-Big Ten); Bryana Hopkins; Byrdy Galernick; and Amber Jamison.

When times get tough and the Wildcats fall behind in a game, the players pick each other up with a look that says, “Let’s go!” They’ve made come-from-behind wins a habit this year by stepping up their defensive intensity in the second half of games.

Team leaders say leadership and chemistry — on and off the court — sets them apart from opponents. In fact, it became the stuff of legend in January when they made a splash on TikTok, going viral for their adaption of “Potter Puppet Pals” from 2007. The video has tallied more than one million views.

Their special bond has translated into wins — a lot of them — fueling an improbable 26-3 record. The 26 wins set a new school mark for the regular season, and it’s led to the program’s first conference championship in 30 years. 

Despite a finals appearance in the 2019 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the Wildcats weren’t counted among this year’s preseason conference favorites. But they’ll come in as the second seed this week in the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis, and they’ve climbed to No. 11 in the Associated Press Top 25.

“I’m so proud of these players,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They don't panic when they’re down. They’re resilient. That’s a hard thing in college basketball.”

And no one knows it better than McKeown, a 35-year coaching veteran in his 11th season at Northwestern. He was just named Big Ten Coach of the Year for a season in which he earned his 700th career victory, making him only the 13th active Division I women’s basketball coach to reach the milestone.

“We always look for high-character players,” he said. “Of course, you need talent to play in the Big Ten. But we look for other things, too. They have good habits and they do the right things. And then sometimes you just get out of the way and let them play.”

The team is led by 5’10” junior guard Lindsey Pulliam, known for her ability to elevate over defenders and make shots all over the floor. In February she took the national spotlight with ESPN Player of the Week honors.

“When I recruited Lindsey, I knew she would do everything required to be a great student-athlete here,” McKeown said. “But I also knew she hated to lose. Not only is she the best player in the Big Ten, she’s the best leader, too.”

Pulliam is joined by a host of other scorers, including Burton and Scheid, who is among the nation’s leaders in three-point shooting percentage despite being recruited as a center and Abbie Wolf. All five Northwestern starters were recognized with All-Big Ten honors this week.

Beyond the box score, Northwestern stands out as the only women’s basketball team in the Big Ten to post a perfect 1,000 multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR), the measure that tracks student-athletes’ path to graduation.

“It’s been an absolute joy to cheer this team on all season,” said President Morton Schapiro. “They’ve fought with skill and determination from the first game of the year, and I don’t think I’ve seen any team demonstrate the Wildcat spirit more consistently. And, given Northwestern’s historic 150 Years of Women celebration, they certainly picked the perfect time to make history of their own.”

Northwestern will be among the 64 teams competing in the 2020 NCAA women's basketball tournament. The selection show is March 16 at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN, and opening round games begin March 20.

By Steve Anzaldi
Last Modified: 3/13/20