LINCOLN — Amy Williams and her team are calling it the “bye week.”
Following the 64-57 loss at home to then-No. 11 Maryland on Feb. 4, the Nebraska women’s basketball team had a week off to figure things out. Let the loss that ended a five-game win streak marinate a bit.
So from Feb. 4 to Sunday, with no games scheduled, the Huskers did some soul searching.
“We felt like the timing was good as far as being able to provide our team extra days off, a little bit of rest and recovery to get healthy and get fresh heading to make a push here down the stretch,” Williams said.
That meant lots of rebounding drills, freshman center Kate Cain said. Lots of work on offense, too, where Nebraska needs to improve over the next few weeks as it chases an NCAA tournament bid.
“It was nice to get a bye week and focus on ourselves,” freshman guard Taylor Kissinger said. “We really needed to group back together and focus on ourselves.”
Nebraska came off the bye and took down Wisconsin at home on Sunday, 51-48. Up next is at Michigan State on Wednesday.
At 18-7, NU is still a bubble team, giving each of the next four games a little more importance. Which is why the break between games was an opportune time to tweak Nebraska’s offensive sets.
Problem is, even after that week off, the offense hasn’t quite picked up yet.
From Jan. 10 to Jan. 28, Nebraska averaged 72.8 points a game, winning five of six and piling on 80 or more points twice . In February, the Huskers have hit a slump, scoring 62, 57 and most recently 51 . On Sunday, Nebraska shot just 3 for 13 in the first quarter. Only one starter — Cain — scored a field goal in the first half.
“(Opponents are) becoming familiar with our team, with our personnel, with our actions and system and taking some things away,” Williams said. “We have to be better to getting over that hump and take what the defense is giving us.”
With four games remaining in the regular season, Nebraska can’t afford a lull on offense, Williams said.
How you jump-start that offense exactly, they’re still figuring out. But the important thing, Williams said, is that her team is committed to finding new ways to score.
“I think the biggest thing is for them to take a peek, to look at the film and see, ‘Oh, OK, when they take this away then this is how we can continue to attack,’ and to be able to carry that over into practice,” Williams said.
Hannah Whitish leads Nebraska with 12.7 points per game. Three other Huskers average double-digits , with Kissinger at 10.7, Maddie Simon 10.6 and Cain 10.5 points per game.
In the last three games, though, all but Kissinger are scoring below their average. Whitish has scored just 5.6 points per game in the three. Kissinger is on a roll, with 12.6 points per game.
When shots aren’t falling, Nebraska relies on its defense to get things going. That’s where the foundation of Williams’ program is being built. The Huskers are first in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to just 36 percent from the floor. NU is fifth in scoring defense at 62.5 points per game, and while struggling on offense, gave up on average just 53 points per game the last three contests.
“Mainly our defense is something that’s carried us to have momentum on the offensive end,” Simon said. “We talk about it every single day. That’s carried us to where we are now. Everyone’s bought in on the defensive end that’s just brought us where we are.”
Nebraska has a quick turnaround from Sunday to Wednesday compared with the “bye week.” But it will be nice to get back into the rhythm of the season, Williams said. Michigan State (15-11, 5-8) is coming off a 66-61 upset over No. 21 Michigan. That snapped a six-game losing streak for the Spartans.
A win and Nebraska is on track for a rematch with No. 10 Maryland in the season finale. That could be the decider on the Huskers making the NCAA tournament.
“For us it’s just been step by step, little ways to figure out ways to continue to advance our program,” Williams said Sunday. “The next hurdle we feel like is to knock off top teams. To knock off ranked opponents, to be able to knock off the top ranked teams in our league and getting over that hurdle is next.”
Nebraska women at Michigan State
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: East Lansing, Michigan
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM
Nebraska (18-7, 9-3)
F Maddie Simon, 6-2, Jr., 10.6
C Kate Cain, 6-5, Fr., 10.5
G Hannah Whitish, 5-9, So., 12.7
G Nicea Eliely, 6-1, So., 8.3
F Jasmine Cincore, 5-10, Sr., 6.6
Michigan State (15-11, 5-8)
F Victoria Gaines, 6-1, So., 5.7
F Taya Reimer, 6-4, Sr., 8.1
G Taryn McCutcheon, 5-5, So., 8.8
G Branndais Agee, 5-11, Sr., 10.5
G Lexi Gussert, 6-0, Sr., 6.1