A pretty good final stretch to the regular season, when the Nebraska women’s basketball team won four of its last six games, allowed the Huskers to not only avoid having to play on the first day of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, but shot the team all the way up to the No. 6 seed in the 14-team tournament.
If Nebraska hadn’t won a couple of those games, it wouldn’t have earned a first-round bye. And those wins also allowed Nebraska to win the four-way tie for sixth place for teams with a 9-9 league record and get a decent draw in the bracket.
Nebraska will play Purdue in the second round on Thursday in Indianapolis. The game will begin at about 7:45 p.m. and be on the Big Ten Network. Purdue advanced by beating Illinois 72-60 in the first round on Wednesday.
If Nebraska wins its first game, it would have to play Rutgers, which has had some turmoil with players getting kicked off the team and coach C. Vivian Stringer not coaching right now for health reasons. And regular-season champion Maryland is on the other side of the bracket.
“We’re just really excited about March madness and postseason play arriving,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. “I think that the Big Ten Conference has shown a lot of parity. When you’re heading into the last day of games and there is a lot of seeds up for grabs still, I think that shows the competitiveness of our league and I think the excitement that is to come this week in the tournament.”
In the final league standings, there were seven teams with between eight and 10 wins.
“It’s been a great regular season, and so competitive,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “After our (last) game, we were trying to figure out who we were going to play and when, and we had a four-way tie and everybody is 9-9. And I think that’s how the league has been all year. There is not a lot of separation.”
In the final three weeks of the regular season, Nebraska got wins against Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern and Penn State while winning some close games that the Huskers lost earlier in the season.
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“We feel pretty good about how our team is playing,” Williams said. “We certainly are feeling like we’re not quite at the point where we are putting together full, compete games just yet, and so there is some room for growth here even into postseason play. But we’ve had some really good wins here down the stretch and won four of our last six, with those two losses being to (No. 8-ranked) Maryland and (No. 10) Iowa.”
Nebraska gave itself a challenging nonconference schedule in hopes of improving its chances of making the NCAA Tournament, but didn’t do very well with a 5-6 record.
And then Nebraska got a tough draw with its Big Ten schedule. Nebraska played the teams that finished first, second and third in the league standings a combined five times and lost them all.
“With all of those challenges this team just keeps on fighting,” Williams said. “I’m really proud of the way we’re continuing to make progress and hopefully going to really be playing our best basketball heading into Indianapolis.”
Now with a 14-15 record, Nebraska will have to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.
And Nebraska will probably need to win two games to be eligible to be chosen for the 64-team WNIT. Any team considered for an at-large berth in the WNIT must have an overall record of .500 or better.
A third postseason tournament is the Women’s Basketball Invitational, but no power conference programs accepted a bid for that tournament last season.