Opening day of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament carries a lot less pressure on Nebraska this time around.
The tournament, which runs Thursday through Sunday at Hoffman Estates, Ill., near Chicago, starts with four first-round games. Winners advance to the second round, where the top four seeds — Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State — await for Friday games.
The No. 21 Huskers (22-7, 12-4) will face the Thursday winner of the Northwestern-Iowa game Friday at 11:30 a.m. All games will be carried on BTN (cable 24, 1333).
If the Huskers win, they would face Purdue, Illinois or Wisconsin at 4 p.m. Saturday. The title game is at 3 p.m. Sunday.
A year ago, Husker coach Connie Yori believed her team needed a first-round win against Northwestern, a team that thumped NU in Lincoln, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska not only won that game, but beat Iowa and Ohio State before falling to tournament champion Purdue in double-overtime in the title game. It was four games in four days that the Huskers never really recovered from, Yori said.
This year, Nebraska would need three wins in three days to take the title.
“Three games is enough,” Yori said. “There are nine teams in the Big Ten with an NCAA bid or on the bubble, and each game is going to be tough.”
In other first-round games, Illinois faces Wisconsin with the winner meeting Purdue; Minnesota faces red-hot Ohio State, with the winner playing Penn State; and Michigan plays Indiana, with the winner playing Michigan State.
“Last year, our first year in the Big Ten, we made the finals and played some great basketball,” Husker senior Lindsey Moore said. “We want to play for the championship this year, but we have a bye the first day, and we feel like we have a pretty good seed for the NCAA Tournament already. We could help that, though.”
The Huskers have an RPI of 15, meaning they could receive a fourth or fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament, which starts March 23.
“We haven’t had a bad loss all year — Creighton has a 25 RPI and even South Dakota State is 60 RPI — and we have played a much tougher schedule, and we’re playing to stay in that 4-5 seed range or maybe higher if we win the tournament,” said Yori, who was voted the Big Ten coach of the year by her fellow coaches.
“We’re doing the little things better, and I’ve always believed that if you do more little things right than your opponent, you should have success,” she said. “We’re practicing better and we’re focusing on the details better ever since we won at Minnesota (Jan. 20) and started that 10-game win streak.”