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Nebraska WBB vs Northwestern Preview

The Huskers look to avenge a close loss to the Wildcats earlier this season

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Maryland vs Nebraska Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

We are down to the last three regular season games for Husker women’s basketball. The team sits at 12-14 and 7-8 in the Big Ten. The Huskers are currently 10th in the conference and one game away from 5th place. Staying out of the bottom four seeds will keep the Huskers from having to play on the first day of the conference tournament. Rising to one of the top four seeds would give them a double bye - but I’m not holding my breath on that one. It is mathematically possible, but extremely doubtful.

Northwestern is the stingiest defense in the conference (even better than Rutgers which is saying something) in holding opponents to 60.1 points per game. They are the ninth best offense at 64.5 ppg.

The Huskers are the 5th best offense in the B1G at 69.1 ppg and 9th best defense allowing 68.7 ppg.

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Northwestern Wildcats
Thursday, February 21, 2019, 7 p.m. (CT)
Welsh-Ryan Arena (7,039) - Evanston, Illinois
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
Huskers.com, Huskers App, TuneIn

Nebraska dropped a tight 58-54 decision to Northwestern at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln on Jan. 24. That game is the difference between the two teams in the Big Ten standings right now, and if the Huskers can even the series they can also pull even with the Wildcats in the conference race at 8-8.

Nebraska owns wins over five of the six teams immediately ahead of the Huskers in the Big Ten standings, including Michigan, Purdue (2), Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State. The only team between third place and ninth place in the standings the Huskers have not beaten is Northwestern.

Both Nebraska (85) and Northwestern (93) headed into the week ranked among the nation’s top 100 teams in the RPI according to RealTimeRPI.com. Both teams own six top-100 victories on the season.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-14, 7-8 Big Ten)
44 - Kayla Mershon - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - So. - C - 7.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - Jr. - G - 8.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - So. - G - 8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Off the Bench
32 - Leigha Brown - 6-1 - Fr. - F - 10.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 9.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 7.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 6.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.1 ppg, 1.2 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 (40-47); 12th Season Overall (233-156)

Northwestern Wildcats (15-11, 8-7 Big Ten)
14 - Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 10.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg
44 - Abi Scheid - 6-2 - Jr. - F/C - 11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg
10 - Lindsey Pulliam - 5-10 - So. - G - 16.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
12 - Veronica Burton - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 7.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg
24 - Jordan Hamilton - 5-8 - So. - G - 9.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg

Off the Bench
21 - Abbie Wolf - 6-4 - Jr. - F/C - 4.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
4 - Bryana Hopkins - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg
3 - Sydney Wood - 5-11 - Fr. - G - 3.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg
22 - Byrdy Galernik - 5-8 - Jr. - G - 2.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg
32 - Amber Jamison - 6-0 - Jr. - G - 1.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Head Coach: Joe McKeown (Kent State, 1979) 10th Season at Northwestern (176-169); 33rd Season Overall (685-343)

Scouting The Northwestern Wildcats

In the first meeting vs Northwestern, Lindsey Pulliam led three Wildcats in double figures, pouring in 21 points to go along with eight rebounds, while senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah added a big double-double with 10 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

Sophomore Jordan Hamilton added 12 points, including 3-of-5 three-point shooting in the first meeting with Nebraska. Hamilton suffered an injury midway through Sunday’s loss to Purdue and did not return to the game, after returning to the bench on crutches. The 5-8 guard is averaging 9.5 points and a team-high 3.3 assists. She ranks second on the team with 30 threes (.367) on the year.

If Hamilton is unable to start, the Wildcats could turn to freshman Sydney Wood. The 5-11 guard has been a solid ball-handler and reliable defender in Big Ten play. In Sunday’s loss at Purdue, Wood had five points, two rebounds and two assists in nearly 28 minutes off the bench. She is averaging 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds while playing in all 15 conference games.

Junior Abi Scheid did not play for the Wildcats in their win in Lincoln. She ranks second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.1 rpg) while leading the Wildcats with 34 three-pointers on the season. The 6-2 forward/center is shooting 41 percent from long range.

Pulliam, a 5-10 sophomore guard, leads the Wildcats with 16.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. She has struggled from long range this year, hitting just 11-of-58 threes (.190) including 6-for-29 in Big Ten play. However, she is averaging 18.0 points per game in conference action. Pulliam is a solid penetrator and a deadly mid-range shooter, who also lives at the free throw line (99-128, 77.3%).

Kunaiyi-Akpanah continues to provide a dominant inside presence with 10.8 and 11.1 rebounds, while leading Northwestern with 43 blocks. She also ranks second on the team with 42 steals.

Freshman guard Veronica Burton rounds out Northwestern’s starting backcourt with 7.7 points and a team-leading 2.4 steals per game. In Big Ten play, Burton is averaging 7.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, a team-best 3.9 assists and a team-best 2.2 steals. She has hit 18-of-58 threes (.310) in league play, while connecting on 87.5 percent (28-32) of her free throws. Her 502 minutes on the court in Big Ten play rank second among the Wildcats to only Pulliam’s 543.

Junior Abbie Wolf, a 6-4 forward/center, can provide Northwestern with traditional size inside. She is averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench in Big Ten play.

Bryana Hopkins, a 6-2 junior forward made several starts when Scheid was out of action, including Northwestern’s win at Nebraska. She had four points, six rebounds, two assists and a block in 35 minutes against the Huskers. She is averaging 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in Big Ten play.

As a team, Northwestern is averaging 64.5 points while hitting 39.9 percent of its shots in Big Ten play. The Wildcats have hit 35 percent (69-197) of their threes and 67.1 percent of their free throws in league action. The last four games, NU has hit just 61.8 percent (34-55) of its free throws. The Wildcats were 7-for-12 at Nebraska, but sank free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Northwestern has played solid defense in the conference, allowing just 60.1 points and holding foes to just 37.8 percent shooting, including just 31.1 percent from three-point range. Northwestern’s Big Ten opponents have hit 67.3 percent of their free throws.

The Wildcats own a plus-1.8 rebound margin in conference play and a plus-1.8 turnover margin.

Nebraska Numbers to Watch

• (1) Nicea Eliely’s next steal will give her a career-high 47 on the year and the most steals for a Husker in a season since All-American Lindsey Moore (60) in 2012-13.

• (6) Ashtyn Veerbeek needs six blocks to tie for the No. 5 total by a freshman in school history (31). She enters the Northwestern game with 25 blocks on the season.

• (6) Kate Cain is six blocks away from tying Catheryn Redmon (77, 2010-11) for the No. 3 single-season block total in Husker history. Cain owns 71 blocks through 26 games this season.

• (7) Cain is seven blocks away from tying Danielle Page (78, 2007-08) for the No. 2 season block total at Nebraska. Cain owns the single-season school record with 100 blocks last year. She had seven blocks in Nebraska’s win over No. 24 Michigan State Sunday. (Note: I got this wrong in my Michigan State recap - working off of memory, I thought Page’s season total was 70 when it is actually 78.)

The Huskers really need to notch a “W” if they hope to get a WNIT bid. They must have a .500 record or better to be selected - they will only make the WNIT with a sub-.500 record if they are the Big Ten’s automatic qualifier (highest seed not selected for the NCAA tourney). As weird as the B1G has been this season, I wouldn’t hang my hat on getting that spot.