Women’s Basketball: Epstein: Northwestern catches glimpses of backcourt promise from Caroline Lau, falls to Nebraska in regular season finale


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Freshman guard Caroline Lau sets up the offense. Lau tallied 11 points and four assists on 5-of-9 shooting at Nebraska on Sunday.

Jake Epstein, Assistant Sports Editor

After coming up short against Wisconsin on Senior Night, Northwestern looked to cap a cumbersome conference slate at Nebraska on Sunday.

Without their floor general in senior guard Kaylah Rainey, the Wildcats (9-20, 2-16 Big Ten) instilled a next-player-up mentality, but the Cornhuskers (16-13, 8-10 Big Ten) ran away with the regular season finale and clinched the series sweep in an 80-64 victory.

Freshman guard Caroline Lau stepped into the fold for her third career start in Rainey’s stead and tallied the contest’s opening bucket with a three-pointer. Nebraska guard Jaz Shelley instantly responded with a triple of her own, but both squads suddenly froze from the floor.

With four minutes left in the first frame, sophomore guard Hailey Weaver tallied a steal and knocked down a deep two-pointer, cutting the Cornhuskers’ lead to 9-7.

Weaver’s jumper served as the Cats’ final score of the first quarter, and NU carried a dismal 3-of-20 shooting clip after 10 minutes of action. Nebraska didn’t shoot the lights out at 4-of-13 but led 12-7 at the quarter’s close.

While junior forward Paige Mott sank a jumper to begin the second frame, the cold Cornhusker offense then caught fire on a 7-0 run into a media timeout.

Mott halted the run with a swift hesitation leading to a mid-range conversion. Nebraska forward Maggie Mendelson responded with a layup, but Lau and Mott strung together four straight scores to cut the deficit to 21-19 with 4:25 to play in the second period.

After Nebraska shot out to a 30-23 lead, sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh converted in the paint. Cornhusker coach Amy Williams then received a technical foul for arguing with the officials, and sophomore guard Jillian Brown made both technical free throws. With just four seconds to play, Lau dished to Weaver, who beat the clock and drilled the game-tying downtown take.

Despite a streaky start to the contest, Lau ran the floor to the tune of nine points and three assists, helping coach Joe McKeown’s team enter the intermission with the matchup knotted at 30 apiece.

Mott sank her first two shots of the third frame, sending NU into a 34-31 lead with 8:27 remaining in the period. However, Nebraska mounted an 11-2 run, barreling back in front 42-36.

Cornhusker forward Alexis Markowski rattled off seven consecutive points with fewer than two minutes left in the third frame, stretching the Nebraska advantage to double digits.

The Cats ended the quarter on a three-plus minute field goal drought, and Walsh tallied the final points of the frame on a 2-of-2 trip to the charity stripe, cementing a 60-50 hole entering the final 10 minutes.

NU needed its primary ball handler to step up in the final frame for any shot at a comeback, but Lau went scoreless in the third period and sat on the bench as the quarter began.

With 8:10 to go, Lau checked back in. She hit Weaver who converted in the paint to cut the deficit to nine at the six-minute mark.

Headed into the final media timeout, Lau drove inside and banked in a floater before Brown picked off an errant pass and drew a foul. The Cats trailed 69-58, and their best free-throw shooter went to the foul line with 4:15 to play.

Fresh off the break, Brown converted both free throws, but Mott picked up her fifth foul, ending her afternoon with 18 points. Less than a minute later, graduate student guard Sydney Wood fouled out, sidelining a third starter from NU’s typical rotation.

The Cornhuskers then cruised to victory at the contest’s conclusion, sending their seniors out on a high note with an 80-64 win.

In a rebuild year for McKeown’s squad, the Cats finished last in Big Ten play. NU will face 11th seeded Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday, when the team will hope to pull off a Minneapolis miracle.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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