Photo Credit: John Peterson

Alexis Markowski Bringing Mental Growth, Support for Teammates Into Postseason

March 01, 2023

As Nebraska women’s basketball heads into the postseason, Alexis Markowski is ready to be a difference-maker. 

The sophomore center has succeeded in doing that through her first two regular seasons for the Huskers, racking up accolades and impressive statistics.

However, in her first taste of postseason play, Markowski struggled. Coming off Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, she opened the conference tournament strong with 22 points against Illinois, but the production wasn’t near the same level the rest of the way. 

In the team’s quarterfinal win over Michigan, she had four points, didn’t make a field goal and finished with four turnovers and four fouls. In losses to Iowa in the conference semifinals and Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, she shot 5-for-19 while remaining in foul trouble. 

One year later, Markowski attributes those shortcomings to the mental state she was in at the time, and self-applied pressure after the recognition she had received. 

“I put a lot of pressure on myself last year after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and just thinking that all eyes are on me and I was never in that position [before],” she said. 

Handling the pressure of high expectations has been a theme for the Huskers as a whole throughout this season as well, as they’ve had plenty of ups and downs after entering the year ranked. 

Jaz Shelley said after the team’s recent win over Northwestern that the team is able to play free and loose now, given that the outside expectations from the start of the season have mostly subsided. 

For Markowski, the awards and success are still there heading into this postseason. She made the All-Big Ten second team for a second straight season, and was a top 10 candidate for the Lisa Leslie Award, honoring the top center in the nation. 

However, she feels she’s better equipped mentally this time around. 

“My mental health has been a big part of this year in my growth as a player and it’s something I’ve really focused on,” Markowski said. “Knowing how I felt last postseason, and working through that and talking about it with sports psych, or my teammates or coaches and that’s been really helpful, but I think I’m in a way better place mentally than I was last season.”

The Husker center has seen some of her scoring numbers go down this year. Her overall points per game are similar, but she’s averaging 11.3 points in conference play. Markowski’s field goal percentage has also dropped from last year, but that’s true of every returning Husker besides the injured Allison Weidner. 

Meanwhile, she’s leading the Big Ten in rebounds with 10.1 per game, 3.4 of those coming on the offensive glass. Her steal and block numbers are both up as well, as she averages just under one per game in both categories.

Markowski’s been put up against top tier competition this season. She’s played against five of the other nine centers accompanying her on the Lisa Leslie Award top-10 list, all of them being in at least their fourth year of college basketball.

She embraces the challenge of playing against and learning from such talented bigs. 

“That’s a reason why I came to Nebraska was to play the top teams in the country, the top bigs in the country and see where I’m at and see where I can grow,” Markowski said. “Playing against players like that, you just learn so much.” 

What she’s learned through those matchups is that she wants to be a better defender and get her footwork and finishing on the level of the best post players. She also said that one advantage she has is being a threat from 3, unlike most other top centers. 

Her toughest matchup has been Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, she said. The current National Player of the Year candidate missed both matchups with Nebraska due to injury last season, but she put up 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks against Markowski and the Huskers this year. 

Markowski also mentioned that she felt “very behind” when she went against Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, who is projected to be a first-round WNBA draft pick. 

With a win over Michigan State Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament, Markowski would get another shot at Holmes and Indiana. Her focus remains on the Spartans, but she’s excited for that possibility.

“I’d love to have another chance at Mackenzie Holmes and our team at Indiana,” Markowski said. “I think we match up really well with them and I think we’re gonna give them a run for their money.” 

As for the upcoming matchup, the sophomore center said Nebraska will need to outrebound the Spartans and handle their defensive pressure well. The Huskers turned it over 26 times in their close win over Michigan State in the regular season, and the opponent got key offensive rebounds late to help a comeback effort that came up short.

In the past year, Markowski has put an emphasis on being a good teammate. She said that focusing on herself can negatively affect how she plays. If she makes a mistake, she knows her teammates have her back, and she looks to keep doing the same for them. 

That’ll be key to the team’s postseason success, she said. Entering the conference tournament as the eighth seed, there may not be many who believe in the Huskers’ ability to make a run, but the team believes in their potential.

“We all believe that we’re going to go and be Big Ten champions,” Markowski said. “Also, we just want to be the toughest team on the court. I think we’ve had a few games this year where we haven’t been the tougher team, but I think our mentality now is to believe in each other and show that we’re the tougher team and deserve to be there.” 

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