As has been the case for Nebraska women’s basketball all season, the Huskers’ first five games of Big Ten play have lacked consistency.
They opened the conference slate strong in early December, taking down then-No. 20 Maryland on the road before cruising to a win over Wisconsin.
The three games over the past two weeks haven’t been as successful, however. The Huskers lost to No. 14 Michigan and No. 4 Indiana — taking the latter to overtime, then dropped a third straight game against a struggling Rutgers team on the road.
They scored 47 points in the most recent defeat and missed their first 21 threes. Head coach Amy Williams labeled it postgame as one of the most disappointing losses of her coaching career.
Now, Nebraska will be faced with the challenge of overcoming that disappointment and stopping the skid in Wednesday’s game against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions may not be ranked like the Wolverines and Hoosiers, but still have been a quality team to begin the year. After going 11-18 last season, they’ve matched that win total with an 11-5 mark so far this year. Like Nebraska, Penn State has started conference play with two wins and three losses, falling to Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota but beating Rutgers and Purdue.
Nebraska’s challenge may be getting its offense going. Penn State’s defense hasn’t been outstanding this year, ranking near the middle of the conference in most statistics, but the Huskers’ recent struggles on that end seem to be a result of more than great pressure from opponents.
Each game for the team since losing Allison Weidner for the season against Kansas has featured its own offensive misfortunes. The Huskers opened with five-point first quarters against Michigan and Rutgers, their lowest output since the switch to four quarters in 2015-16. Despite competing with Indiana in a low-scoring affair, Nebraska went scoreless in overtime. Then, against the Scarlet Knights, the team missed its first 21 3-point attempts, not hitting a shot beyond the arc until the final quarter.
Over the past three games, Nebraska’s averaged just over 55 points. For comparison, Northwestern currently owns the worst scoring offense in the conference, averaging 61.4 points per game in conference play.
Guard Jaz Shelley is Nebraska’s leading scorer, and she’s been particularly off in the last two games. She scored five points against Indiana in the opening minutes, but was stopped for the rest of that game and held scoreless in the loss to Rutgers.
Since the 7:25 mark of the first quarter against the Hoosiers, she’s missed 18 consecutive shots along with a pair of missed free throws, going over 82 minutes of game time without points.
While the offense aims to get going, the Huskers will hope to continue their defensive intensity. They’ve had one of the best defenses in the conference, and will be tasked with slowing down Penn State’s trio of double-digit scorers, led by Makenna Marisa. The senior guard averages 18.7 points per game, good for fifth in the Big Ten.
This game also begins a key stretch for the Huskers. Nebraska’s currently projected as one of the last four teams to make the NCAA Tournament. In the next six games, it will play three top-15 opponents in No. 3 Ohio State, No. 9 Maryland and No. 12 Iowa. The other three games consist of the matchup with the Nittany Lions, and challenges against two other teams with similar records to Penn State — Purdue and Michigan State.
The Boilermakers and Spartans are both on the tournament bubble. The Nittany Lions, having just beat Purdue, could find themselves there too with some more impressive wins.
Nebraska hasn’t lost at home to Penn State since moving to Pinnacle Bank Arena. The visitors will try to change that fact on Wednesday, while the Huskers look to rebound and start off a tough stretch strong.