Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Regroup And Lock In: Huskers Set Focus On Minnesota After Disappointing Loss

February 19, 2022

After knocking off No. 5 Indiana at home last Monday, there was a possibility that the Nebraska women’s basketball program would win its last six games of the regular season, sending Big Red to the Big Ten tournament as one of the conference’s hottest teams.

But with an 83-76 loss on the road to Penn State, the best-case scenario now is the Huskers going 5-1. The loss was disappointing not only in the fact that it came against the Nittany Lions, a team that was near the bottom of the Big Ten and only had three conference wins coming into the game, but also because head coach Amy Williams and her players knew they needed to bring their “A” game on the road in this conference, even against the struggling opponents like Penn State, which was on an eight-game losing streak.

Being consistent was key, Williams said after the Indiana win.

“That’s our next challenge, is to go on the road for our next ball game and try to back this up with an even better performance,” she said.

Jaz Shelley knows the secret to success in the Big Ten is to play 40 minutes of good basketball. Not three or two quarters of it, four.

“We had a defensive mindset this game. We played forty minutes tonight, and it really shows when we play a full game, we’re at our best and we’re a really strong team,” Shelley said after helping send the Hoosiers home with a loss.

The Huskers weren’t consistent and didn’t play four quarters of strong basketball in State College, though, as they watched their 13-point lead in the fourth quarter disappear thanks to a monster 15-0 run from the Nittany Lions.

With the loss in the rear-view mirror, the team’s focus is set on Sunday afternoon’s home matchup with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-15 overall, 5-10 in Big Ten) at 2 p.m. It comes one day after assistant coach Chuck Love was suspended with pay by the university and Ashley Scoggin, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, was removed from the roster.

The Huskers (19-7, 8-7) and Gophers have already tangled this season—Nebraska beat Minnesota on its home court in Minneapolis, 70-67, on Dec. 6—but, as has been shown in the Big Ten, this contest likely won’t be a walk in the park.

It never is in the best conference in women’s college basketball.

“We just have to find a way to understand that this is a tough league, and it’s tough to win on the road,” Williams told the Huskers Radio Network after the Penn State loss. “We need to regroup and get ourselves ready to lock in and get another win at home.”

From Jan. 15-27, Minnesota faced a tough stretch with games against No. 18 Ohio State, No. 22 Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue. The Gophers didn’t fare well during that four-game slate, losing all four. But head coach Lindsay Whalen’s team regrouped and has been playing better as of late. Minnesota has gone 3-3 in its last six contests with wins over Northwestern, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Minnesota will be coming off a 79-61 loss to Rutgers at home on Thursday night, however. Rutgers is one of the two worst teams in the Big Ten, but is still dangerous at times because the Scarlet Knights aren’t afraid to play defense and get dirty while slowing the game down with a physical brand of basketball. The Huskers beat Rutgers 50-38 earlier this season, but led just 36-30 heading into the fourth quarter before taking over in the final 10 minutes.

So the Huskers might be getting Minnesota at a good time, though the same can be said about Nebraska from the Gopher’s perspective.

The player to keep an eye on for the Gophers is 5-foot-10 guard Sara Scalia, who’s averaging a team-best 17.1 points overall and 18.6 in conference play. In that Dec. 6 matchup with the Huskers, Scalia scored 20 points and went 4-of-7 from 3-point range. The Huskers will need to sharpen its perimeter defense, which is something that didn’t go well in the loss to Penn State. The Nittany Lions came into that game averaging 6.5 3-point makes per game, but had open looks behind the arc all night and wound up going 12-of-30. Those 12 triples were the most the Nittany Lions made in a game since the beginning of the year when they hit 13 against Delaware State on Nov. 16.

Nebraska will need to be aware of Deja Winters as well. The 5-11 guard is averaging 12.1 points and has a 30-point game under her belt against Iowa. But Winters is also a key defender for the Gophers and has collected a team-high 44 steals. As a team, Minnesota is good at creating turnovers—it ranks 41st in the country with 10 steals per game. Gadiva Hubbard and Kadi Sissoko have 24 and 22 steals, respectively, on the season, too.

Husker fans might remember the name Sissoko, as it was said plenty of times in the first matchup. The 6-2 forward from Paris, France, scored what is still her season-high of 25 points and was a thorn in the side of the Nebraska defense all game that night.

Minnesota lost its starting point guard, Jasmine Powell, to the transfer portal in late January. Powell was the second-leading scorer on the team with 12.4 points per game and was leading in assists per game with 5.7.

Nebraska’s depth may be tested on Sunday with Annika Stewart’s availability up in the air. Stewart, a 6-3 knock-down shooting forward who’s capable of stretching defenses, missed her fourth consecutive game with a lower-back injury, according to the Huskers Radio Network.

With Scoggin out, true freshman Allison Weidner will likely make her third start of her young career. Weidner scored seven points with eight rebounds and six assists at Penn State, but struggled from the field going 3-of-10. If she’s out, Scoggin’s shot-making will be missed—she’s the only Husker guard shooting over 32% from 3 in conference play as she’s at 40% (32-of-79).

Sunday’s game will be one that Sam Haiby should have a big presence in. A Moorhead, Minnesota, native, Haiby scored 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter against her home-state Gophers on Dec. 6, helping to seal the win for the Huskers. Haiby has scored in double figures in the past three games, but is shooting 38% (14-of-36) from the field and 20% (2-of-10) from 3 during that stretch.

The Penn State loss stings, especially during a week in which ESPN’s bracketology projected the Huskers as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. The latest projection, done on Friday after the loss, still had Nebraska as a No. 7 seed. Nebraska wants to stay there and not slip to a Nos. 8 or 9 seed — where they would likely play a No. 1 seed if it advanced.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, the Huskers need to take care of business. That starts with Minnesota on Sunday.

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