On Monday, the Huskers wrap up their 2018-19 home schedule with a huge clash with rival Iowa. Tip between Nebraska (13-14, 8-8 Big Ten) and the No. 10 Hawkeyes (21-6, 12-4 Big Ten) is set for 7:30 p.m. (CT) on BTN.
Here are three things to get you ready for the action.
Senior Day for Simon
Following Monday’s game, the Huskers will honor only one senior — forward Maddie Simon.
The Lincoln Pius X graduate has played in 105 games in her Husker career, scoring nearly 700 points and grabbing more than 300 boards. She’s averaging 7.0 points and 3.1 rebounds a night during her final year as a Husker and coming off a strong 15-point, five-rebound performance off the bench in a win at Northwestern (Feb. 21). She was 6-for-6 from the field with a pair of threes in Evanston.
Simon was a significant contributor in the NU backcourt her first two years, including five starts late in her freshman season. She came off the bench for the entirety of her sophomore year but then made the permanent switch from guard to forward heading into the 2017-18 season.
In 28 games with 27 starts at power forward, Simon was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten her junior year. She bumped her scoring average up six points (to 10.1 a night) while more than doubling her rebounding average (from 2.3 to 5.3 rebounds).
The Huskers went 20-8 with Simon on the court last year.
Simon began this season as a starter but was displaced midway through by freshman forward Kayla Mershon. Head coach Amy Williams wanted Mershon’s defense on the floor and Simon’s leadership with the far younger second unit.
Another Big-Time Game
Nebraska is one of four teams that enter the final week of Big Ten play with an 8-8 record in league games and one of eight teams that could finish with a 10-8 mark. Each of the top four seeds in the conference are at this point unattainable for the Huskers, but anything between a fifth-place finish and an 11th-place finish is in play.
Fortunately for Nebraska, it owns at least a series split over every team (Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan State) in the No. 4 through No. 9 spots in the conference standings as of Feb. 22. Should Nebraska finish in a tie with Minnesota (9-7), Purdue (8-8), Ohio State (8-8) or Michigan State (7-8), NU would own the tiebreaker.
And Nebraska appears to be peaking at the right time. The Huskers are coming off back-to-back wins for just the second time in Big Ten play after holding off a furious Northwestern comeback on the road for a crucial 71-64 win on Feb. 21. That win followed an 82-71 win over No. 24 Michigan State at home on Feb. 17.
The Huskers are also catching the Hawkeyes on the heels of a blown 16-point lead against Indiana and a 75-73 loss. The last time the Huskers had won two in a row in conference play, Iowa ended the run in Iowa City with a 77-71 win (Jan. 3).
It marked one of a school-record 12 games this season decided by two possessions or less. The Huskers are just 3-9 in those games and 2-6 in Big Ten play. Iowa is 2-2 in its Big Ten games decided by two possessions.
Basketball’s Best Player
It’s very likely Megan Gustafson, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, is the best player in college basketball this season.
She’s an All-American, probably the National Player-of-the-Year winner and even more likely Big Ten Player-of-the-Year winner who leads the nation in scoring at 27.4 points a night. Her rebounding, 13.1 boards per contest, also ranks fourth in the country. And both of those averages have gone up since Nebraska’s first meeting with the Hawkeyes on Jan. 3, where Gustafson scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
The senior has produced 2,542 career points and 1,332 career rebounds in her 126 career games. This season, she is shooting a career-best 70.4 percent from the field and 78 percent at the free throw line. She is a 12-time Big Ten Player of the Week during the 2018-19 season and has scored 30 or more points nine times this year, including two 40-point performances. Over her last six games, Gustafson is averaging 30.7 points and 14.5 rebounds.
Nebraska has been hurt by individual scoring prowess this season while lacking a bonafide defensive stopper. It has also been beaten on the boards regularly. Neither plays well in this matchup. Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek is quicker than starting center Kate Cain, but the tradeoff there is in Cain’s rim protection.
Nebraska will likely need to send double teams and varied looks at Gustafson to try and keep her out of rhythm. The Huskers need to keep her from tearing them up inside.
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.