Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-9, 4-3 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten)
Thursday, January 24, 2019, 7 p.m. (CT)
Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,000) - Lincoln, Nebraska
Live Video: BTN Plus
Live Radio: Husker Sports Network (6:45 p.m.) Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst); Lincoln-B107.3 FM; Omaha-ESPN 590 AM
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The Husker defense is starting to come together. They have held their previous three opponents (Rutgers, Illinois, Minnesota) to an average of 62 points. Paradoxically, this has come at a time when the Huskers have been out-rebounded in the same three games by 10, 8, and 19(!!).
Nebraska is coming off its first win over a top-25 opponent this season after rallying for a 63-57 victory over No. 23 Minnesota. The Huskers trailed by nine points with eight minutes left, before closing the game on a 12-0 run. Nebraska held the Gophers without a field goal for the game’s final six minutes to secure their third fourth-quarter comeback win in Big Ten Conference play this season.
A talented Northwestern team brings an identical 4-3 Big Ten mark to Lincoln, including a pair of wins over top-25 foes. Last week, Northwestern fought to a 75-69 win at No. 25 Indiana, just two weeks after knocking off Michigan State in Evanston, 70-62.
The two teams not only have identical league marks, they are separated by fewer than 10 spots in the RPI and they are both battling for a top-four spot in the conference standings.
If this game comes down to the wire, Nebraska is certainly no stranger to close games. The Huskers own a pair of six-point wins, but five of Nebraska’s nine losses have been by two possessions or less, with three of those coming against teams that have been ranked in the top 25 this season.
Nebraska’s active roster is one of the most collectively inexperienced in the Big Ten, entering Thursday’s game with just 10,222 cumulative collegiate minutes. Northwestern sits right in the middle of the Big Ten pack in experience with 11,776 career minutes from its active roster.
Nebraska’s bench is the most productive unit in the Big Ten, averaging 33.7 points per game in conference play. Northwestern uses a relatively large rotation of players and has received 9.8 points per game off the bench so far in league play, which ranks 11th in the conference.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-9, 4-3 Big Ten)
44 - Kayla Mershon - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - So. - C - 7.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 8.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - Jr. - G - 7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - So. - G - 9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Off the Bench
32 - Leigha Brown - 6-1 - Fr. - F - 10.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg
13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 8.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 7.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg
11(out) - Kristian Hudson - 5-5 - Sr. - G - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998) Third Season at Nebraska (37-42); 12th Season Overall (230-151)
Northwestern Wildcats (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten)
4 - Bryana Hopkins - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 2.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg
14 - Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 11.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg
10 - Lindsey Pulliam - 5-10 - So. - G - 16.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
12 - Veronica Burton - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 7.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg
24 - Jordan Hamilton - 5-8 - So. - G - 9.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Off the Bench
44 - Abi Scheid - 6-2 - Jr. - F/C - 11.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg
21 - Abbie Wolf - 6-4 - Jr. - F/C - 4.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg
0 - Jess Sancataldo - 6-0 - Fr. - G - 4.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg
3 - Sydney Wood - 5-11 - Fr. - G - 3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg
22 - Byrdy Galernik - 5-8 - Jr. - G - 3.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg
32 - Amber Jamison - 6-0 - Jr. - G - 2.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Head Coach: Joe McKeown (Kent State, 1979) 10th Season at Northwestern (172-165); 33rd Season Overall (681-339)
Scouting The Northwestern Wildcats
Head coach Joe McKeown brings a balanced and dangerous Northwestern team to Lincoln in his 10th season at the helm of the Wildcats. McKeown owns 681 career victories in his 33rd season overall as a head coach.
Northwestern features two of the Big Ten’s most explosive players in sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam and senior power forward/center Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. Pulliam is averaging 19.4 points in 35 minutes per game in league play while getting to the free throw line an average of eight times per game. Akpanah averages a double-double with 12.9 points and 11.1 rebounds in B1G play. She is a disruptive defensive force on the glass, blocking shots and forcing turnovers.
Sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton has pitched in 9.7 points and a team-leading 3.8 assists, while knocking down 36.2 percent (21-58) of her threes.
Freshman guard Veronica Burton rounds out Northwestern’s starting backcourt with 7.9 points and a team-leading 2.6 steals per game. Burton has been the Wildcats’ most consistent threat from long range with 40.4 percent (21-52) success from beyond the three-point arc.
Northwestern’s fifth starter has been affected recently by an ankle/foot injury suffered against Michigan (Jan. 8), as 6-2 junior forward Abi Scheid has missed the last three games. Scheid has averaged 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds while stretching the defense at power forward/center by hitting 35.2 percent (19-54) of her threes on the season, including 8-of-15 (.533) in the first four Big Ten contests.
Fellow junior Abbie Wolf, a 6-4 forward/center, has stepped into a starting role on one occasion and is averaging 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. She has not attempted a three on the year.
Bryana Hopkins, a 6-2 junior forward who has made multiple starts in place of Scheid, has added 2.9 points and 2.9 rebounds. Hopkins has not made a three this season.
Byrdy Galernik, a 5-8 junior guard, has made five starts this year and has managed 3.1 points and 2.5 assists, but is just 1-for-11 from three-point range.
As a team, Northwestern is averaging 65.4 points while hitting 40 percent of its shots in Big Ten play. The Wildcats have hit 34.5 percent (30-87) of their threes and 69.3 percent of their free throws in league action. Northwestern has played solid defense in the conference, allowing just 57.6 points and holding foes to just 36.2 percent shooting, including just 27.7 percent from three-point range. Northwestern’s Big Ten opponents have hit just 62.4 percent of their free throws.
The Wildcats own a plus-3.7 rebound margin in conference play and a plus-1.6 turnover margin.
This should be an interesting game in that both teams are playing good defense and have fairly balanced scoring attacks. Northwestern is more reliant on a couple of its players to score than Nebraska, but the points can come from anywhere on the floor for either team. The Huskers have gotten better about not turning the ball over, but they could regress a bit against a swipe-happy Wildcat squad. Northwestern’s length and size will also be challenging for Husker posts in the rebounding department.
Last season, my broken record repeated “Keep Kate Cain out of foul trouble” as my key to every game. This season, I seem to repeat “If the Huskers can develop some offensive flow”. I don’t know if they will, but if so, I think the home team has a good shot at another “W”. Northwestern has been a pesky team that is hard to put away, so regression by the Husker defense or another cold night from behind the arc (like against Minnesota) and the Huskers could find themselves back at .500 in a muddy Big Ten looking up at Northwestern and whole bunch of other teams.