Photo Credit: John Peterson

Huskers to Face Talented Northern Iowa Offense in the Second Round of the WNIT

March 18, 2023

After Nebraska women’s basketball’s first round WNIT win, head coach Amy Williams said her team would get together to watch the game that decided the Huskers’ next opponent. 

In Northern Iowa’s win Thursday over Colorado State, there’s a good chance the second quarter left a lasting impression in the minds of players and coaches.

The Panthers won 88-76, cruising to a win off the strength of a 56-point first half. They scored 32 of those points in the second quarter, making 10 of 12 shot attempts. Colorado State, playing without All-American guard McKenna Hofschild, couldn’t catch up despite outscoring its opponent in the second half. 

Northern Iowa might not shoot over 70% in a half and over 50% for the game when it plays in Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, but Nebraska’s challenge will still be slowing down the Panther offense.

The Huskers will play a second straight opponent from the Missouri Valley Conference in round two, after beating Missouri State in their opening matchup. However, there’s plenty of differences between the two. While Northern Iowa and the Bears split their head-to-head matchups, the Panthers put together a better season overall, finishing with a better record and ranked nearly 50 spots higher in the NET rankings.

The style of basketball is also different. Missouri State was an unimpressive offensive team, although its work on the offensive glass allowed it to put up respectable point totals. On the other hand, Northern Iowa owns one of the best offenses in the Missouri Valley Conference, landing top 40 in the nation in scoring, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Nebraska’s struggled against high-scoring opponents at times. The Huskers have allowed over 70 points in a game 12 times this year, with a record of 1-11 in such contests. The one win came in triple overtime against Kansas, where the Jayhawks finished regulation with 60 points but reached 79 by the end of the matchup.

The Huskers, ranking No. 62 in scoring offense, are 4-11 against foes above them in that category. A few teams just below, like Creighton and Minnesota, also beat Nebraska through good offensive outings. In each of the four wins, their opponent ended regulation at least 10 points below their current scoring average.

That suggests that defense will be key on Sunday. When the scoring numbers get high, Nebraska has at times shown an ability to stay in the game but has yet to come out on top in a shootout. Its defense was strong against Missouri State in the first round, despite the Bears uncharacteristically nailing four of their first five 3-point attempts.

Williams said postgame that her team needed to be more disciplined on the defensive end, particularly in reference to the 23 offensive rebounds Missouri State grabbed. Northern Iowa doesn’t tend to crash the glass at the same level, but the Husker defense will need to stay sharp against a team that doesn’t turn the ball over often and has a number of players that can shoot threes well.

The Panthers are led by their trio of double-digit scorers. Sophomore forward Grace Boffeli averages 16.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. Her, Maya McDermott and Emerson Green all were efficient in the team’s first round win, combining for 54 points on 16-for-25 shooting. Kam Finley, a senior guard averaging 8.4 points per game, added 19 points.

If Nebraska’s not scoring at its average level, it could be in trouble regardless of how well the defense plays. The Huskers have been streaky this year, with the lows including a 45-point offensive disaster against Rutgers and multiple five-point quarters. They turn it over at about an average level, but have recorded crucial strings of giveaways.

Guards Sam Haiby and Jaz Shelley combined for nine assists and just one turnover against Missouri State, and another showing like that would help the team’s efforts greatly. Haiby also contributed a season-high 25 points to start off her final postseason run with the team.

Should Nebraska win, either Missouri or Kansas will be the team’s opponent in the round of 16. As mentioned, the Jayhawks challenged the Huskers in December’s triple-overtime game and barely missed the NCAA Tournament. A rematch remains on the table, but Nebraska will keep its focus on winning Sunday another talented team.

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