Northwestern University Women’s basketball vs Michigan during the Big Ten Tournament 2021 in Indianapolis, IN on March 11, 2021.
— S. J. Carrera, Inc
In a year of what-could-have-beens, the sudden, heartbreaking stop to the Northwestern women’s basketball team’s 2019–20 season still strikes a nerve. Blazing red-hot with a 26-4 record and a Big 10 championship, the Wildcats were on the verge of returning to the NCAA tournament when COVID-19 abruptly ended their run. The team’s dazzling star guard, then junior Lindsey Pulliam (C21), was crestfallen.
“I was mad and sad for the seniors at the time because they had put in so much work to get to that point, and we put in a lot of work—we came a long way in those three years,” she says. “There was disappointment in knowing that we had so much more to prove going into the tournament. And I think we were going to do really well and thrive and put our team on the map. We just tried to stay together as much as we could to try and get through it.”
Known for her “Pull-up Pulliam” jump shot as well as her unifying leadership on the court, she kept her sights set on what might come next. Pulliam headed back to her parents’ Maryland home, worked out, and kept tabs on her teammates in daily group chats while quietly working the chip on her shoulder—a sore spot she hoped would give the ’Cats an edge when they returned.
And return they did, although for an abbreviated season in eerily empty basketball stadiums. Pulliam is a player who thrives on packed houses and core-rattling tension, so she found that the crowd-free games in her final Wildcat season often felt a little like high-stakes scrimmages. “I did enjoy just being out there and playing, knowing that it was me and my team and nobody else in there—so it was fun in that sense,” she says. The ’Cats enjoyed a respectable 16-9 overall season and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
After graduating this past spring with a major in communication studies, Pulliam returned to Maryland, anticipating a stint oversees before heading to the WNBA as an Atlanta Dream draft pick. The stop-start of the last two seasons has taught her a few things about what she’s gained from her Northwestern years.
“I know I want to stay in basketball as long as I can,” she says. “So whenever the ball does stop bouncing, then I can see my communication degree working for me. I think it’s going to be very helpful in terms of making more connections with people through the game.”