Women’s Basketball: Wildcats set to close woeful regular season in Nebraska


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Northwestern women’s basketball team gathers around the bench during a timeout. The Wildcats have largely disappointed this season after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year.

Will Ragatz, Reporter

Women’s Basketball

A lot has changed since the last time Northwestern and Nebraska squared off.

On Jan. 3, the Wildcats opened the home portion of the Big Ten season sporting an 11-2 record and the No. 14 ranking in the nation. They were coming off of a shocking road loss to Penn State, but were still viewed as one of the conference’s best teams. The Cornhuskers showed up to Welsh-Ryan Arena that day with a decent 9-3 record having dropped their conference opener as well.

The game was never close. NU ran out to a 17-2 lead and never looked back in a dominant 23-point victory. Concerns of the team’s demise that had arisen following the Penn State loss had been quieted. These Cats were for real.

Or so it seemed.

Fast forward almost eight weeks and nothing has gone as coach Joe McKeown and NU expected. When the Cats (15-14, 4-13 Big Ten) take on Nebraska (17-11, 8-9) in the regular season finale for both teams Sunday, they will be playing for nothing more than pride.

NU and its 4-13 conference record are all but locked into the No. 12 seed for next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. A team that reached the No. 12 ranking in the nation earlier this season has fallen all the way to 12th place in the Big Ten.

It all happened so quickly. After crushing Nebraska, the Cats lost two in a row. Confidence was restored again in a stunning defeat of then-No. 5 Ohio State, but that would prove to be the high point of the conference season. Following that upset win, NU lost nine of its next 10 games, with the only win coming against last-place Illinois.

After each loss, McKeown and his players maintained they would turn the season around. For a team with so much talent, it seemed inevitable that they would eventually right the ship and get on a winning streak.

It never happened.

What has made this season so stunning and disappointing is that NU is not a team completely devoid of talent. Its “big four” of junior forward Nia Coffey, senior guard Maggie Lyon, and junior guards Ashley Deary and Christen Inman can score with anyone in the Big Ten. In fact, the Cats have put up 72.6 points per game in conference play, the 7th highest total in the league.

However, NU has been plagued by struggles on defense and in late-game situations. The Cats are surrendering 77.1 points per game to Big Ten opponents, good for third-worst in the conference. And eight of their 13 league losses have come by single digits, with four of those coming by 5 points or less.

With senior forward Lauren Douglas having not entered a game this season, NU has had very little depth beyond the “big four.” The rest of McKeown’s rotation has been mostly inexperienced freshmen and sophomores. As a result, the starters have had to play extremely heavy minutes.

The Cats have also struggled at the free throw line, as their conversion rate of 66.9 percent on the season is dead last in the Big Ten.

Yet, there is still a chance for NU. After closing the regular season in Lincoln, McKeown and his team will head to Indianapolis for a first-round matchup with either Wisconsin or Illinois, both of whom have fallen to the Cats by double digits this season.

After that, NU would still need to rattle off four more victories to win the tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament, which would be nothing short of a miracle for a team that failed to win consecutive conferences games all season.

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