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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern drops regular season finale to the Cornhuskers, 73-59

Nebraska knows how to navigate the Blizzard.

LINCOLN, Neb.— While a victory appeared within reach early, an incredible third quarter for Nebraska (22-7, 11-7 B1G) finished off Northwestern (16-11, 8-8 B1G) as the Wildcats fell 73-59 in their final regular season game before the Big Ten tournament.

Veronica Burton and Laya Hartman led the way for the ‘Cats, scoring 16 and 12 points respectively. For the Huskers, it was the Australian duo of Izzy Bourne and Jaz Shelley who put on an offensive clinic, combining for 37 of Nebraska’s 73 points on the day.

The ‘Cats came into the game on a two-game winning streak, however, it didn’t show early. Nebraska took the early lead with five quick points thanks to the sophomore Bourne and freshman Alexis Markowski. Facing an early deficit, Northwestern tried to pull itself back even with strong defensive efforts from Burton and Courtney Shaw, but a scoring drought of three minutes allowed the Cornhuskers to stay out in front for the majority of the quarter.

With 3:19 to go in the first, Burton tried to split the defense and ended up taking a tough fall. She had to leave the game, but wouldn’t let herself stay out long. When she returned a minute later, Burton found Caileigh Walsh wide open behind the arc for three, then she added a triple of her own to even the score at 14. Nebraska scored a layup just before the break to take the lead by two at the end of the first.

Both teams opened the second period hot from deep, as Laya Hartman and Bourne traded threes in a battle that saw the lead change four times in the first two minutes. Despite the early burst, both teams went on four-minute scoring droughts as Nebraska led 23-22. Neither team could seemingly hit a shot for much of the quarter, with the Cornhuskers at one point going on a 1-of-11 shooting stretch and the Wildcats similarly shooting 1-of-8.

Bourne continued her hot streak to end her team’s cold streak, knocking down a three with 42 seconds left in the half. Hartman extended the duel, hitting a jumper to keep the margin at three. With the sixth seed in the Big Ten tournament on the line, Nebraska led Northwestern 30-27 at the break.

Heading into the locker room, Bourne led all scorers with 14 points, while Hartman led the ‘Cats with 10 of her own. Five of Northwestern’s nine makes in the first two frames came from behind the arc, but 32 percent field-goal shooting and losing the battle at the boards kept the team in a deficit.

While the score was close through the first two periods, Nebraska broke the game wide open to start the third frame with two corner threes to go up nine. A pair of free throws from Hartman and Burton were Northwestern’s only points in the first five minutes of the second half, and the Cornhuskers continued to pour the points on. Nebraska made six of its first seven shots to open the third, far outshooting Northwestern.

Shelley was a huge part of the problem for the Wildcats, scoring 13 points off of three triples in the third alone. Burton did everything she could to keep the ‘Cats in it, scoring nine of Northwestern’s 14 points in the quarter. However, Nebraska’s offense was a well-oiled machine that did not slow down, building a lead of 17. Bourne hit a deep three to cap off a quarter where the Cornhuskers outscored the Wildcats 28-14.

In the final quarter, Northwestern was able to cut the deficit, but the difference was too large as the ‘Cats fell. The contrast between the halves was the driving factor in the game, as Northwestern’s shooting percentage dropped from 32.1 percent to 22.6 percent. On the other side, the second half defense was abysmal, allowing Nebraska to shoot 60 percent, including 5-of-10 from deep over the final two periods. The Cornhuskers knocked down nine of their 18 threes overall in the match.

Northwestern clinches the seventh seed in the Big Ten Tournament with today’s result, and will face tenth seeded Minnesota on Thursday at 5:30 P.M. CST in Indianapolis.