Nebraska women’s basketball is looking to finish the regular season out strong on Sunday in its home game against Northwestern.
The Huskers are coming off one of their most impressive games of the season, taking down No. 25 Illinois 90-57. That game put an emphatic end to a four-game losing streak, reversing the recent struggles the team was having in areas like defense and bench production.
A win against the Wildcats would continue the team’s momentum heading into a conference tournament that is key for Nebraska’s postseason hopes.
Northwestern is currently last in the Big Ten, but Nebraska has had its recent struggles against some of the lower teams in the conference. Over a week ago, Minnesota took down the Huskers with a game-winner just days before losing to the Wildcats.
Nebraska’s first matchup with Northwestern also is a worthwhile example. The Huskers won by double-digits, but it was by no means a clean performance. They scored 30 points in the first quarter before putting up just seven in the second, then had a lead of over 20 points cut down to single-digits in the fourth quarter.
The team would surely prefer a more complete showing. Avoiding a repeat of the first game’s strange fourth quarter may be central to that effort.
The Huskers turned it over 24 times in the game, including 11 in the first seven minutes of the final period. That allowed the Wildcats to cut their deficit to seven points. Northwestern also scored 32 points in the fourth after putting up 34 points through the first three quarters.
Nebraska only attempted five field goals in the last 10 minutes of the game, as the other possessions ended in either a turnover or free throws. The Huskers shot 25 times from the line during that span, making 18. They also hit their last 12 attempts to seal the win.
Since then, Northwestern’s struggles have continued. It picked up a second conference win against Minnesota, but has lost four of its last five after the matchup with Nebraska. The Huskers have an equal record in the last five games, but still come in with the advantage.
For Nebraska, guard Jaz Shelley seems to be getting back on track as a scorer. Her shooting numbers have been inconsistent this year, but she’s shot 52% from the field and 48.5% from three over the last three games. She’s averaging over 27 points in that stretch, including a career-high 37 points against Minnesota and 26 points in the win over Illinois.
The frontcourt has impressed as well. Forward Isabelle Bourne has scored double-digit points in each of the last eight games, being the only Husker to do so. Center Alexis Markowski is averaging a double-double on the year.
One thing the result of the game won’t have any impact on is the Big Ten tournament. Nebraska’s first two matchups in the bracket have been set, with no more than one game remaining for every team in the conference. The Huskers are eighth in the standings right now, one spot above Michigan State.
They could switch with the Spartans, but the No. 8 and No. 9 seed play each other for their first games in the tournament. Michigan State is a game-and-a-half ahead of Rutgers, meaning that the Scarlet Knights can’t climb up.
Should the Huskers beat Michigan State, as they did in their lone matchup this year, they’ll go on to face regular season conference champion Indiana. The Hoosiers, ranked No. 2 in the country, needed overtime to take down Nebraska in January.
A number of things can shift before then, but it’s possible that Nebraska will need some conference tournament magic to feel good about its chances at the national bracket. ESPN’s bracketology moved the Huskers up into the “First Four Out” after the win over Illinois.
Any path to the postseason from here still starts on Sunday, where Nebraska will look to take care of business.
More news and notes:
>> Sam Haiby, Jaz Shelley and Isabelle Bourne will be honored by the program for Senior Day on Sunday. Shelley and Bourne are both fourth-year juniors with the choice to come back for one more season, but will take part in the festivities regardless of their decision.