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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Seek to Avoid Letdown Against Struggling Northwestern

February 05, 2023

The last time Nebraska women’s basketball went on the road to play a struggling Big Ten team, it didn’t end well. 

Nearly a month ago, the Huskers had their most disappointing performance of the season, missing 21 consecutive threes to begin a 57-45 loss to Rutgers. At the time, the Scarlet Knights had lost all four of their conference games by double-digits and owned a record of 6-10. 

Rutgers has since picked up a couple more conference wins against Penn State and Minnesota, but sits at 9-14 overall and 11th place in the Big Ten. 

Now, Nebraska will take on Northwestern on Monday night in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats are last place in the Big Ten, having just one conference win against Wisconsin. Their overall 8-14 record is worse than any team in the conference aside from the Badgers. 

For a Husker team on the NCAA Tournament bubble, this is a game that they need to win and will be expected to. With only six games after Monday’s and four against projected tournament teams, a loss would make the path to the bracket steep. 

While Northwestern has obviously struggled in Big Ten play, it’s put up respectable fights on a number of occasions. The Wildcats’ win against Wisconsin was two games ago and three of their conference losses have been by single-digits. Another three ended with differences of 10 or 11 points, but were within single-digits entering the fourth quarter. 

They have a pair of double-digit scorers in sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh and guard Sydney Wood. Walsh averages 12 points per game on 40.2% shooting, while Wood puts up 10.9 points and shoots 44.4% from the field. Both average at least five rebounds and a block per game as well, being the team leaders in those categories. 

However, Paige Mott is worth looking out for as well. The junior forward is averaging 15 points over the last five games, including 23 points in the win over Wisconsin. She’s more efficient than the team’s scoring leaders, hitting 53.1% of her shots on the season, although she doesn’t shoot threes. 

The team stats lean well in Nebraska’s favor. The Huskers certainly are primed to have a good defensive day, as they’re third in the Big Ten in points allowed per game and Northwestern is second-to-last in scoring offense. 

“All season our defense has been pretty good for the most part, trying to hold teams under 70 points,” Sam Haiby said after the win over Michigan State.

Every Husker win has featured the opponent being held to under 70 points in regulation. Yet, strong defense hasn’t always resulted in wins. Rutgers is the only team that averages less points than Northwestern, and it didn’t need to break 60 to beat Nebraska. 

So, the attention turns to the offensive end. The Huskers have been worse offensively in opposing stadiums, averaging 63.9 points on the road. They did break 70 points in their last two performances outside of Pinnacle Bank Arena, however. 

Northwestern doesn’t have a particularly impressive defense, but neither did Rutgers. The Huskers, who shoot more threes than any team in the conference, have had multiple instances of simply not converting well on open chances. 

There’s no telling who they’ll turn to for points. Each of the team’s top available scorers — Jaz Shelley, Alexis Markowski, Isabelle Bourne and Haiby — have led the Huskers in scoring once in the last four games. Guards Maddie Krull and Callin Hake also had such games early in January. 

With Nebraska’s offensive inconsistencies, this game has a decent possibility of being ugly. The Huskers are coming off such a contest, turning it over 26 times and nearly blowing a 21-point lead in their win over Michigan State. 

Head coach Amy Williams was mainly glad her team came out with a Big Ten win after that matchup, and that’s the goal again for the upcoming game.

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