The Northwestern Wildcats took a little while to find their footing in their opening round game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament against the University of Central Florida Knights, but once they did they were able to snag an opening round 62-51 victory on Monday afternoon.
Lindsey Pulliam scored a team-high 25 points, and she also added three rebounds and three assists in the victory. Jordan Hamilton had eight points and eight assists as the Wildcats advanced to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 1993.
Courtney Shaw had a strong game off the bench, scoring 12 points, pulling down four rebounds and blocking three shots for the victorious Wildcats.
The Wildcats got off to a solid start in the game, with Pulliam scoring their first four points. Shaw and Hamilton then took over, with Shaw scoring five points in the closing stages of the first quarter and Hamilton adding five of her own to give Northwestern a 14-12 lead after 10 minutes of play.
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Central Florida responded with a strong start to the second quarter. Alisha Lewis helped push the Knights in front with about five minutes to go in the frame, burying a three-pointer to make it 21-17. After a foul was called on Northwestern’s Jordan Hamilton, Lewis then made another long jumper to put the Knights ahead by six points with 5:16 remaining in the half.
The Knights were dealt a cruel blow in the second quarter of the game, as Diamond Battles, one of the team’s leading scorers, was forced to leave the game with a leg injury. She went back to the locker room, and emerged with an ice pack on her leg and walking on crutches, with the team ruling her out for the remainder of the contest.
The Wildcats closed out the first half on a 6-0 run, with Pulliam making a pair of free throws and Hamilton making a lay-up down the stretch to give Northwestern a 30-26 lead at the break.
Northwestern’s defense clamped down to start the third quarter, allowing the Knights just five points in the first six minutes of the frame. Pulliam added three more points and Veronica Burton made a jumper for the Wildcats, giving them an eight point lead just over halfway through the quarter.
After a brief pushback by Central Florida cut the lead to four, Shaw made a pair of lay-ups, including one on a fast-break, to give the Wildcats back an eight-point cushion with 2:28 remaining in the quarter.
The Wildcats’ suffocating defense held up through the end of the quarter, keeping the Knights off the board for the remaining 3:13 of the third. The Wildcats did get another lay-up from Paige Mott, and they grabbed a 10-point lead after three quarters of play.
Northwestern’s lead ballooned to 15 early in the fourth quarter, but UCF refused to go down without a fight. Brittney Smith made a lay-up and Courtajia Sanders knocked down a three-pointer to start out the rally, and then Sanders made another lay-up a short time later to cut the lead to eight. After a foul on Veronica Burton, Smith made another lay-up, cutting the Wildcats’ lead to 50-44 with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
With the Knights looking to make it a single-possession game late, Lauryn Satterwhite came up with a huge steal, and Pulliam made a lay-up to extend the Northwestern lead back to eight points with just over a minute remaining.
Northwestern's defense held the Knights at bay to wrap up the victory, sending the Wildcats to the next round for the first time in nearly 30 years.
With the win, the Wildcats will now await the winner of Monday night’s contest between Louisville and Marist in the second round. That game will be played Wednesday, with a start time to be determined.