After a 12-0 Start, Huskers Hit Big Ten Grind
By Steve Beideck • Photos by Amarillo Mullen
Some of the early excitement around Nebraska’s 12-0 start to the women’s basketball season has been tempered the past month by the challenges of a rugged Big Ten schedule.
Seven of the 14 Big Ten squads were ranked in the top 47 in the RealTimeRPI.com ratings through games played Jan. 19. The Huskers fit comfortably in that group at No. 37 with a 13-4 overall record.
Coach Amy Williams’ charges own the only conference win over No. 8-ranked Michigan through the first month of the season. That 79-58 drubbing of the Wolverines, ranked 13th in the RealTimeRPI, gave the Huskers their first victory over an AP Top-10 opponent since a victory over No. 9 Duke in 2014.
But since then, the Huskers have lost three consecutive conference games and are 2-4 in the league. A 72-65 loss to No. 6 Indiana – the Big Ten leader at 6-0 – was sandwiched between a pair of losses to Iowa.
That 2-4 record has the Huskers in 10th place in the conference standings. Nebraska’s other conference victory was a 70-67 decision over Minnesota on Dec. 6. Before the Jan. 4 upset of Michigan, Nebraska fell to Michigan State 72-69 on Dec. 30 in East Lansing.
Nebraska was set to begin a stretch of five games, including four at home, against teams with a sub-.500 record in conference play with a Jan. 20 game against Rutgers. Because of health and safety protocols within the Huskers program, that game against the last-place Scarlet Knights (7-12, 0-7) is being postponed to Feb. 1 in Lincoln.
Health and safety protocols also forced the postponement of Nebraska’s trip to Champaign for a Jan. 23 game against Illinois to face the 6-10 Fighting Illini (1-4 Big Ten). That means Nebraska won’t play again until kicking off a three-game homestand Jan. 27 against Wisconsin (4-13, 1-6).
The other two games in that stretch are a Jan. 30 matchup against Purdue (12-6, 3-4) and Penn State (Feb. 3). The Nittany Lions (9-7, 3-3) are one of the two East Division teams the Huskers play a home-and-home series with this season.
Nebraska will travel to State College for the rematch on Feb. 17. Indiana is the other East Division opponent the Huskers face; that game in Lincoln is scheduled for Feb. 14.
If the Huskers can run the table against those teams, their Feb. 6 game at Maryland would become a big game that could help Nebraska’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth. The Terrapins are currently ranked No. 20 in the RealTimeRPI standings, three spots ahead of Indiana.
Nebraska has had success to this point because they are playing well at both ends of the court. Four players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by sophomore guard Jaz Shelley and her 13.8 points per game.
Sam Haiby and Isabelle Bourne are averaging 11.0 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. Bourne and Shelley both have made 74 field goals this season, with 40 of Shelley’s being 3-pointers.
Nebraska’s newest offensive star has just begun to shine in the past month. Freshman forward Alexis Markowski already has been namen the Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times, and she also was honored Jan. 11 as the National Freshman of the Week by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
In NU’s victory over Michigan and first loss to Iowa, the Lincoln Pius X graduate averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The Michigan game was Markowski’s first collegiate start as she stepped in for injured teammate Bella Cravens.
After scoring 20 points against the Hawkeyes in the first meeting, Markowski made a career-high six 3-pointers and posted a career-high 27 points Jan. 16 in Nebraska’s 93-83 loss.
Markowski is 10-of-14 from beyond the arc (71.4%), and she also leads the Huskers in overall field goal percentage having made 67-of-127 shots (.528). She’s also second to Shelley in total rebounds (120-109).