Nebraska’s 10th-ranked offense in the country was held to 30 points at halftime Sunday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The visiting Northwestern Wildcats had slowed the Huskers down, forcing 10 turnovers in the first two quarters while immediately double-teaming Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate Alexis Markowski whenever she got a post touch.
The second half, though? That was a different story.
The Huskers threw a knock-out punch in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 28-14 and almost scored as many points in one quarter as they did in the first two combined. That third-quarter surge helped Nebraska defend its home court with a 73-59 win, its 16th at PBA this season, which ties a school record.
“It makes me want to to give all these girls a great, big, huge hug for how much they really embraced taking care of home court and how hard they work to make that happen,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said after the game.
The challenge of defending her home court night in and night out holds a special place in Williams’ heart. It goes deeper than just wins and losses.
“There’s a pride that I have as an alum of this university, wearing Nebraska across my chest for the fanbase and the loyalty that they show through good times and bad,” Williams said. “Just how they’ve stuck with us through some highs and lows and they’ve been here and they keep coming back. To be able to give them our best effort and for them to be rewarded with winning basketball is, I feel like, the least we can do.”
That isn’t all the win did, however. The victory over Northwestern gives the Huskers the No. 6 seed of the Big Ten tournament, which begins Wednesday, March 2, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Nebraska will get a first-round bye and play the winner of No. 14 Illinois and No. 11 Wisconsin on Thursday.
Seeding is incredibly important this time of year, Williams said.
“You’re constantly playing to put yourself in the best position, and I think that sixth-seed is an important factor for us, something we were really striving for,” she said. “We want to put ourselves in position to be Big Ten champions, so anything we can do to try to improve our chances, we’re all for that.”
Nebraska led 30-27 at halftime and heavily relied on the scoring of Isabelle Bourne and Markowski, who combined to score 24 points with Bourne netting 14 and Markowski 10. Bourne and Markowski provided a good 1-2 punch in the post and were big reasons why Nebraska outscored Northwestern 32-12 in paint points.
Bourne led the Huskers with a team-high 20 points while grabbing five rebounds. The 6-foot-2 forward from Australia was efficient, too, going 7-of-10 from the field, 3-of-3 from 3 (a season-high) and 3-of-4 at the free-throw line. Markowski notched her sixth double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Lincoln Pius X High School product went 2-of-3 from behind the arc, too.
The Wildcats’ salty defense made for a clunky first half—there was a stretch in the second where the Huskers didn’t make a field goal for over five minutes. The Husker defense, though, never let the Wildcats take advantage and held them to 32% shooting in the first half. That percent dropped to 27% for the game.
The third quarter started exactly how Williams wanted—a corner 3 from Jaz Shelley in front of her own bench:
— Nebraska WBB (@HuskersWBB) February 27, 2022
Williams credited freshman guard Allison Weidner with making the right read on the set play and making a quick and sharp pass to Shelley, who has found her 3-point touch again. The Moe, Australia, native has made three or more triples in five of her last six games and is shooting 40% (19-of-47) during that stretch.
“We had a couple different reads on that set, she made a great read and Jaz was shot ready and aggressive,” Williams said. “She’s been working hard on corner 3s and just being smooth and consistent with that shot. So I was pleased to see her have the confidence to step up and knock it in, and Allison to make that read and pass it to her in that position.”
Shelley’s triple started the momentum shift, and Nebraska poured it on from there. The 3-point shot was good to the Huskers on Sunday—they made 50% while going 9-of-18. But in the third, they put the game away by going 5-of-6. During the third, Shelley went 3-of-3 while Bourne and Weidner each made one. Shelley finished her day with 17 points (3-of-5 from 3) and five assists.
Nebraska celebrated its Senior Day on Sunday, honoring Mi’Cole Cayton, Bella Cravens and Sam Haiby in a post-game ceremony.
Thank you Seniors. 🌽❤️ pic.twitter.com/g0um9lmPuW
— Nebraska WBB (@HuskersWBB) February 28, 2022