Amy Williams thought her team learned its lesson last month against Michigan.
The Huskers played the ranked Wolverines at home at the end of December, and lost in part due to a first quarter which featured just five Nebraska points, the lowest single-quarter scoring output in program history.
The team repeated that first-quarter performance two games later in a disappointing road loss to Rutgers. Williams hoped that after a home win against Penn State, her team could continue the momentum when faced with another ranked opponent in Pinnacle Bank Arena.
By the time the teams were 10 minutes through Saturday’s game, that clearly didn’t come to fruition. This opening quarter may not have featured a program-worst showing, but Nebraska still trailed 25-12 before eventually losing 76-67.
“We have to get off to great starts, you have to put together 40 minutes in this league against anybody and particularly the number three team in the country,” Williams said postgame. “We dug ourselves a hole, it proved to be something we couldn’t really get over the hump to overcome.”
Ohio State didn’t waste much time getting out to a significant lead. The Buckeyes led 13-2 just over four minutes in, hitting six of their first eight shots and getting a number of easy looks. Meanwhile, the Huskers, despite not having yet turned it over against an opportunistic Ohio State defense, struggled to get anything to fall. Nebraska came into the game averaging the most 3-point attempts in the conference, but the team’s early looks consisted of
Sam Haiby missed three difficult layups in the opening stretch, although one led to an Alexis Markowski rebound and layup for the first Husker points.
“We were kind of sped up, trying to break their press, not really executing our plays,” Markowski said of the offensive performance early on. “Then once we were, they kind of backed off and weren’t pressing as much. But yeah, I think the story goes that if we don’t start well, it usually ends in a loss.”
The end result still wasn’t certain for most of the contest, however. The Huskers outscored the Buckeyes in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 10 points, then opened the second half on a 7-0 run to make it a one-score difference.
The stars of this stretch were Markowski and Haiby. Markowski’s six first-quarter points helped keep the team afloat, as she and freshman guard Callin Hake were the only two Huskers to score in the opening period. The center scored six more in a row to end the first half, including a heavily contested, shot-clock beating jumper.
Haiby had five points in the second quarter after missing her first four shots, and came out of halftime even stronger. She opened the third quarter with five more points, the last three coming on a converted and-one layup. The fifth-year guard had nine of her season-high 16 points in the quarter.
But Haiby and the rest of the team’s efforts weren’t quite enough. After being up by three five minutes into the second half, Ohio State’s Rebeka Mikulasikova took over, scoring nine points in less than three minutes to extend the lead back up to eight points. The Buckeyes added five more points after a Markowski free throw late in the period, as Taylor Thierry’s and-one brought it back to a double-digit difference.
Mikulasikova finished with 25 points, turning in a strong performance while matched up with Markowski for most of the game.
Ohio State controlled the final quarter, with the lead only being brought back within 10 when Jaz Shelley hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go. Nebraska ended the game having outscored the Buckeyes in the second and fourth quarters, along with ripping off a significant run in the third.
Williams said her team showed flashes, and that could be seen throughout the game and in the final box score. Nebraska had 18 assists to 12 turnovers against a team that has forced 20 giveaways a game in conference play. The Buckeyes secured just one more rebound than the Huskers. Taylor Mikesell, Ohio State’s leading scorer on the year, needed 14 shots to reach 14 points and turned it over eight times.
Hake was one of four double-digit Husker scorers, reaching 10 points or more for the fourth time in the last five games. Along with her scoring, Haiby had season-highs in rebounds and minutes, grabbing seven boards and spending 31 minutes on the court. Williams said postgame that she’s been able to stay on the court for longer periods of time and is overall getting closer to full strength.
“I think [Haiby’s] starting to really get back and gain that confidence and gain that strength,” Williams said.
Haiby will look to continue that in Nebraska’s next game against Purdue on the road on Jan. 18, where the team will also be hoping to avoid another slow start. The Huskers have struggled on the road this season, and the 12-5 Boilermakers could present a challenge.