The women’s basketball teams in the Big Ten Conference are traveling to Indianapolis this week for the conference tournament beginning Wednesday, March 4.
The Huskers are entering the tournament with a 7-11 record in conference play after a disappointing second half of the season. Despite their record and No. 10 seed, anything can happen once tournament play begins. Nebraska proved this season that even if it can’t come out with a win, they can stick with almost every team in the conference.
Being the No. 10 seed, the Huskers earned a first round bye and will take on No. 7 Michigan for their first game of the tournament Thursday at 5:30 p.m. This game can be watched on the Big Ten Network.
Although it seems like Michigan has the upper hand with a better seed, Nebraska can come into this game with confidence, as it defeated the Wolverines in mid-January in the teams’ only regular-season meeting.
Nebraska has continuously struggled with putting together four quarters of good basketball and it’s often hard for the team to come back after slipping for a quarter. However, the Huskers managed to come back from a bad third quarter during the Michigan game.
They trailed by 13 in the third quarter and fought back to win 74-71. Both teams excelled from beyond the arc throughout the game. Senior guard Hannah Whitish led the Huskers with 20 points, including six 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Sam Haiby and senior forward Nicea Eliely contributed 18 and 11 points, respectively, including three 3-pointers from each.
Michigan junior forward Hailey Brown led the Wolverines with 17 points, including five 3-pointers.
The Huskers and Wolverines were nearly equally effective shooting the ball, with Nebraska shooting at 42.9% from the field and Michigan shooting 44.3%, so Thursday night's game should be another close one.
During the Big Ten Coaches Media Teleconference on Monday morning, Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said she believes the team learned a lot from the Michigan game, including how important it is to not dig themselves into a hole. It’s crucial for them to put together a complete game, according to Williams.
If Nebraska defeats Michigan, it’ll move on to play No. 2 Northwestern. The Huskers lost by six when they took on the Wildcats earlier in the season.
Northwestern junior guard Lindsey Pulliam will be the player to watch, as she has averaged 19.1 points per game so far this season. The Wildcats have three more players that average double-digit points, including sophomore guard Veronica Burton, who scored a team-high 21 points during Nebraska and Northwestern’s first meeting.
Sophomore forward Leigha Brown and junior center Kate Cain led the way for Nebraska with Brown recording a team-high 14 points and Cain adding a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
During the first meeting, Nebraska led by five points with under three minutes left to play. However, the Wildcats scored the last nine points to walk away with the game.
One of the highlights for Nebraska during the game was its defense. The Huskers held the Wildcats to 28.8% shooting. Bringing that same lockdown defense will be crucial if they want a chance to move on to the semifinals on Saturday.
If Nebraska does pull off the upset and moves on to the semifinals, there are four possible opponents, with No. 3 Iowa being the most likely. Nebraska’s biggest statement win of the season was its first match-up with Iowa in late December. The Huskers defeated the Hawkeyes 89-78.
Cain recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore forward Monika Czinano posted a double-double for Iowa, recording 16 points and 17 rebounds.
Nebraska’s defense was impressive in the first meeting, holding Iowa to 36.8% shooting.
According to Williams, that game solidified that if everyone is contributing and working to make big plays, they can go on to beat the top teams.
The Huskers and Hawkeyes met again in February, with a less favorable outcome for Nebraska, as it lost 76-60. Czinano stepped up again for the Hawkeyes and provided 23 points.
Nebraska shot a paltry 32.8% from the field in that game.
If the Huskers win that game, they would head to the championship and most likely play No. 1 Maryland. The Terrapins are ranked seventh nationally heading into the tournament. Nebraska played Maryland once in January and lost 87-69.
Going into the tournament, Williams believes Nebraska can be competitive. She said she’s proud of the Huskers for continuing to fight throughout the whole season. Even though they were hoping for a better seed, she said they’re holding on to the fact that the Huskers think they haven’t played their best basketball yet.