Husker women hope their best is yet to come entering Big Ten tournament

LINCOLN — Amy Williams’ perspective is balanced, but her words are frank when she’s asked whether the Nebraska women are playing their best basketball heading into the Big Ten tournament.

“I really wish I could say yes,” Williams said. But she can’t. She’s not sure she’s seen it yet.

A team with two sophomores and four freshmen may have earned the No. 6 seed in Indianapolis — where the Huskers will face 11th-seeded Purdue around 7:45 p.m. Thursday — and Nebraska (14-15, 9-9) may have won four of its past six games.

In Williams’ eyes, excellence remains elusive.

“In our last three or four ballgames there have been stretches — probably longer stretches — where we have been playing pretty dang good,” Williams said. “And then, for some reason, we’ve been up 14 points and we let off the gas. So there’s stretches where it certainly doesn’t look like our best basketball.”

It makes Nebraska’s chances at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hard to predict.

During the regular season, the Huskers swept Purdue (18-14), which beat Illinois 72-60 in its opening-round game Wednesday. But the Boilermakers, who have won eight Big Ten tournament titles, are historically tough to beat in Indianapolis.

“They’re an hour down the road and they take a lot of pride in the tournament,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we should be guarding against complacency.”

The Huskers’ size and scoring versatility have been a tough matchup for Purdue in recent seasons, but Nebraska is 2-4 the past four years at the Big Ten tournament, as well.

Thursday’s winner faces No. 3 Rutgers, which has kicked two players off the team and seen coach C. Vivian Stringer take a health-related leave of absence until a presumptive NCAA tournament bid.

The Huskers almost certainly have to win two games to be eligible for the WNIT. The WNIT reserves one automatic bid for the Big Ten, but that will go to the highest-finishing league team that doesn’t make the NCAA tournament. Fifth-seeded Ohio State, not Nebraska, appears in line for that bid unless Ohio State wins the Big Ten tournament.

To extend its season, in other words, NU had better plan on an extended stay in Indianapolis. Williams said the Huskers would watch the Purdue-Illinois game on site, practice afterward, eat dinner and get sleep. She doesn’t want Nebraska feeling a “false sense of security” or dwelling too much on an inconsistent season. Nebraska needs to stay in the moment.

“I’ve not spent a whole lot of time being frustrated,” Williams said. “Thirteen games decided by two possessions or less — it shows we are competitive. But there’s some definite room for growth.”