Nebraska is looking to get back to .500 in Big Ten play on Thursday with a trip to Northwestern. The Huskers sit at 12-14 overall (7-8 Big Ten) while Northwestern is 15-11 and 8-7 in conference play.
Tip is set for 7 p.m. CT from Welsh-Ryan Arena. Here are three things to know about the game.
Leigha Brown is on a Tear
Leigha Brown has earned Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week honors (Jan. 7), snagged a spot on the Big Ten Honor Roll (Feb. 10), dropped a 30-point game in a win against Purdue (Feb. 10) and led the Huskers in scoring six times already.
As that first honor indicates, she’s a freshman.
The 6-foot-1 wing Auburn, Indiana, took some time adjusting to the speed of the college game and earning head coach Amy Williams’ trust on the defensive end of the floor, but she’s flourishing at Nebraska and currently leading the Huskers in scoring.
Brown is putting up 10.1 points a night overall this season and 11.2 points a game in Big Ten play. She’s hitting at 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from the 3-point line. In 15 league games, though, the 3-point shot has been even deadlier. She’s up to 43 percent from deep against Big Ten opponents. If she shot it more to qualify for the Big Ten leaderboard, she’d be fourth in overall 3-point shooting and leading the league in 3-point shooting against other Big Ten teams.
Brown is a threat to score at all three levels. Against Michigan State the last time out, she got an eventual upset rolling with two 3s off of catch-and-shoot set-ups within the game’s first minutes. In the second half, she did her damage at the foul line. Brown has a quick release and the green light to pull-up from just about anywhere on the court. Still, she’s excellent at forcing her way to the foul line. Only one other Husker has even attempted as many free throws at Brown has made (40) through 15 league games.
It’s been evident all year long that this season is about building towards the future with a talented core of freshmen, but what we’re seeing of late is a possible future scoring leader taking over her team. And she’s doing all this while playing in a bench role for most of the season.
(Sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger has been sick with the flu the last two games, so Brown has started, though Kissinger played in Nebraska’s most recent game against Michigan State last Sunday.)
Brown was just 2-for-11 for six points the last time these two teams met and Nebraska lost by four. Look for her to have a better showing in Round 2.
Guard Their Stars
Unlike Nebraska’s “spread the wealth” approach where the bench goes 10-deep every night and eight players average at least six points a game, Northwestern is powered by its starting five. Three women — guard Lindsey Pulliam, forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and guard Jordan Hamilton — serve as the engine.
Pulliam, a sophomore guard, is shooting just 19 percent from deep this year and still leading her team in scoring overall (almost 17 a night) and leading her team in league play (18 a night). Her points per game on the season puts her fourth among Big Ten players.
Much like Brown, she’s a threat to score from almost anywhere inside the arc and loves to force her way to the rim.
Against Nebraska last time, she got whatever she wanted, finishing with 21 points and eight boards on 9-for-17 shooting. After a 3-for-8 first half, she killed Nebraska with mid-range pull-ups off the dribble in the second half while going 6-for-9.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah did damage as well, with 10 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. She effectively played Husker starting center Kate Cain off the floor and took advantage of a size mismatch with freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek in Cain’s absence.
Hamilton (12 points, 3-for-5 from deep) was the only other Wildcat in double figures scoring the last time, but in a game where the winning side scored 58 points, getting 43 from three players is huge. The sophomore combo guard is another ball-handler who has gotten better in league play, but she suffered an injury midway through Northwestern’s loss to Purdue last Sunday and did not return to the game.
She finished on the bench on crutches. If she can’t go, it’ll be a blow to the Wildcats, as she leads the team with 3.3 assists a game and ranks second in made 3s (30 at a 37 percent clip).
Conference Tournament Implications
Nebraska could get back to even in the Big Ten this season and doing so would be huge.
With three games to play, Nebraska sits 10th in the Big Ten standings. And yet, the Huskers are only two games back from a top-four seed and a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. Four teams, including Northwestern, sit at 8-7 ahead of the Huskers (Michigan State is 7-7). While Nebraska closes out with Iowa at home and Penn State on the road, there’s a chance to move up.
Only three games total separate No. 4 from No. 11 in the standings. Here are the remaining schedules for each of those teams, with their Big Ten records in parenthesis.
- No. 4 Michigan: vs. Rutgers (10-4), at Michigan State (7-7), vs. Wisconsin (3-11)
- No. 5 Minnesota: at Maryland (12-3), at Rutgers, vs. Michigan State
- No. 6 Purdue: at Penn State (3-11), vs. Maryland, at Indiana (6-9)
- No. 7 Northwestern: vs. Nebraska, vs. Indiana, at Iowa (12-3)
- No. 8 Ohio State: at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, vs. Rutgers
- No. 9 Michigan State: vs. Ohio State, vs. Michigan (9-6), vs. Penn State, at Minnesota (8-7)
- No. 10 Nebraska: at Northwestern, vs. Iowa, at Penn State
- No. 11 Indiana: vs. Iowa, at Northwestern, vs. Purdue (8-7)
It’s very possible the middle of the Big Ten looks completely different when the conference tournament starts on March 6.
In the event of a tie in the final regular season standings, the first tiebreaker belongs to the head-to-head winner. Among the teams in front of it, Nebraska owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Minnesota, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State. It split the season series with Michigan and has a chance to do so with Northwestern.
Nebraska can’t climb into top-four range given Michigan’s overall record (18-9) but anything else is on the table. The Huskers don’t straight control their destiny, but if they win out or win two of three, they don’t need a ton of help from others to move up.
(The remaining tiebreaker info can be found here. It’s complicated so we can get into it when the time comes.)
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.