With a down to the wire win over Michigan on Thursday in the rearview mirror, No. 19 Northwestern women’s basketball (21-3, 11-2 B1G) returns home just five wins away from at least a share of the regular season Big Ten title.
The ‘Cats enter Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Nebraska (16-9, 6-8 B1G) as winners of nine of their last ten. Regardless of that streak, though. Northwestern comes into this game with a chip on their shoulder, having been unceremoniously swept by a mediocre Cornhuskers squad last year.
“They beat us on our home court [in 2019], and that one definitely stuck with us for a little bit,” sophomore guard Veronica Burton said Friday. “We’re making sure that’s not going to happen again.”
Meanwhile, the Huskers come into Evanston after taking care of business against Penn State to snap a four game losing streak. Nebraska is a feeble 3-7 in their last 10 games, with their only wins coming vs. Michigan, at Wisconsin and in the aforementioned victory over the Nittany Lions.
The Wildcats have yet to face UNL this season, and will face a tough task in locking down Husker forward Leigha Brown on the defensive front. Brown averages 13.8 points per game and has cracked double figures 20 times this season. Defensively, the biggest problem is junior center Kate Cain, who averages 3.4 blocks per contest and a whopping 6.0 over UNL’s past five games.
Additionally, Burton and fellow guard Sydney Wood will have a tall task ahead of them in the former of the Nebraska backcourt. Primarily, they will be attempting to contain Nebraska guard Sam Haiby, who averages 10.5 PPG and 3.4 assists. But starting point guard and minutes leader Hannah Whitish is dangerous as well despite averaging single digit points this season, having dropped 31 points on 9-18 three-point shooting in the teams’ two 2019 meetings.
“We want to make sure that we’re not skipping over any games,” Wood said. “We want to make sure we come out against Nebraska and treat it like it’s a revenge game.”
The sophomore is coming off of what just might be the best game of her career against the Wolverines. In just 26 minutes, Wood posted 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals (all of which came in the third quarter) all while shooting 6-6 from the field and 4-4 from the FT line.
“It was more of just taking the flow of the game and taking what the defense was giving me,” Wood said. “I wanted to be aggressive when I could, but also make sure that I was still looking out for my teammates.”
It’s a performance that she will be striving to replicate today after posting just three points on 1-4 shooting in last year’s home loss to Nebraska. Leading Northwestern scorer Lindsey Pulliam struggled in the contest as well, scoring just 14 points on 5-21 shooting, and Abi Scheid, who missed the teams’ first meeting, shot an uncharacteristically poor 3-9.
Burton, on the other hand, posted a solid statline in last year’s home loss, finishing with eight points and nine assists while playing a full 40 minutes. While her workload may not be as significant this time around, the preparation hasn’t waivered.
“Any team in the Big 10 you really can’t underestimated, so we’re just really focused on that,” Burton said. “What the coaches say to us in the scout we really take in and I think that translates onto the court.”
After today’s matchup, the ‘Cats will play four more regular season games before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament. On Feb. 19, Northwestern plays host to Rutgers. Then, the Wildcats will travel to Madison to face the Badgers on Feb. 22. After that, the ‘Cats head to Columbus to face Ohio State on Feb. 25, before finally hosting Illinois for Senior Day on Feb. 29.
Tune in to BTN+ or WNUR Sports 89.3 FM starting at 2 p.m. Central to catch this afternoon’s clash with Nebraska.