Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

One Game Stands Between Nebraska And The Big Ten Tournament, But Northwestern Won’t Be A Walk In The Park

February 26, 2022

Believe it or not, the Nebraska women’s basketball team has just one regular-season Big Ten game left on the schedule until the conference tournament, which starts March 2 in Indianapolis.

The Huskers (21-7 overall, 10-7 in conference play) will try to head into the Big Ten Tournament riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak. The team standing in the way of that is the Northwestern Wildcats, who come to Lincoln for the 3:30 p.m. contest at Pinnacle Bank Arena with a 15-10 overall record and a 7-7 mark in conference play.

The Wildcats have been streaky as of late. Following a four-game losing streak from Jan. 16–28, they went 4-2 in their last six contests and 2-2 in their last four. Make no mistake about it, though—head coach Joe McKeown’s team is dangerous. Like Nebraska, Northwestern has a couple of head-turning wins against the best competition in the Big Ten. On Jan. 6, the Wildcats knocked off No. 21 Iowa 77-69 in Iowa City. Then on Feb. 13, they defended their home court with a 71-69 victory over No. 17 Ohio State in double overtime.

Northwestern ranks inside the top-50 nationally in three categories: blocks per game, turnover margin and steals per game.

The Wildcats are 14th in the country in blocks—they average 5.2 per game. Three players have more than 20 swats this season while three others have more than 10. The team leader in this area is the 6-foot-3 Caileigh Walsh, a freshman who’s also averaging 8.3 points per game. Veronica Burton, a 5-9 guard and the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, and Courtney Shaw, a 6-foot forward, each have 24 blocks to their name.

Burton is having another strong season as she’s averaging 17.8 points and 6.6 assists. Stop or at least limit her, and the Huskers have a great chance at getting another home win.

Northwestern is taking care of the ball while forcing its opponents to lose it, too. The Wildcats rank 37th in the country in turnover margin at 4.16. Burton is averaging 4.2 steals per game while only turning the ball over 2.2 times. In Northwestern’s win over Illinois last Sunday, Burton nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 14 assists and nine steals.

Speaking of steals, the Wildcats are good at gobbling them up. They’re collecting 10.1 steals per game, good for 37th in the country. Burton is obviously the team leader in that department while Shaw has 33 and Melannie Daley 22. Northwestern has recorded 10 or more steals in 18 games this season while Nebraska, on the other hand, has seven such games.

Where does Northwestern struggle? Three-point defense is one area. The Wildcats rank 322nd at defending the 3-point line as opponents are making 34.1% of their triples. The Huskers are shooting 35.3% from behind the arc, 37th in the nation, but will be without their top-3-point shooter in the Big Ten, Ashley Scoggin, for the rest of the season.

But while the team loses Scoggin, guard Jaz Shelley has started to regain her shot from deep. In 10 games from Dec. 11 through Feb. 10, Shelley made just 21% of her 3s, going 12-of-55. But in past five games, the Oregon transfer and native of Moe, Australia, is shooting 39%, connecting on 16-of-41. Her two 3s in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin last Thursday helped Nebraska escape Madison with a win.

Northwestern also struggles to rebound. The Wildcats are getting outrebounded by an average of 1.8 boards per game, or 239th in the country. This might be a game where Nebraska’s best rebounders—the 6-3 Alexis Markowski and Bella Cravens, the 6-2 Isabelle Bourne and yes, even the 5-9 Shelley—do work in the paint.

Markowski, one of the leading candidates to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is grabbing a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game while Shelley, despite her sub-5-10 size, is hauling down seven a game. Cravens is averaging 5.2 rebounds while Bourne, who has been stretching defenses with her 3-point shot by making at least one triple in the last seven games, is grabbing 4.7.

Nebraska and Northwestern will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

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