Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Behind Markowski’s Career Night, Nebraska Takes Down No. 8 Michigan

January 04, 2022

Nebraska had a tall task in front of it Tuesday night hosting the No. 8-ranked team in the country. But the Huskers punched the Michigan Wolverines in the mouth with a strong first quarter that produced a 19-8 lead.

But it didn’t just last for one quarter. Nebraska continued to attack Michigan again and again. And behind a career-high 20 points from Alexis Markowski—a true freshman from nearby Lincoln Pius X High School— in the first start of her young career, the Huskers defended their home court with a 79-58 win over the Wolverines and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon.

The win was the Huskers’ first against a top-10 opponent since Dec. 3, 2014 when they beat No. 9 Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Five days after shooting 33 3-pointers and only making 21% of them in a loss at Michigan State, the Huskers got tough. They took the ball to the rim instead of settling for 3s against Michigan. Sixteen of the Huskers’ 19 points in the first quarter came in the paint, and they took—and made—just one 3. The defense was stingy, too, and altered shots from the Wolverines, who were 3-of-14 in the opening quarter.

Isabelle Bourne’s defense on Hillmon’s patented move that forced a Wolverine turnover early in the game stuck with head coach Amy Williams. Hillmon, who scored 35 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in last season’s game, finished with just 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting and turned the ball over six times Tuesday. Bourne was one of the key players who drew the defensive assignment on Hillmon.

“Issie set the tone for our team on one of those first couple possessions when she played Naz’s reverse-face baseline drive, took a charge right there,” Williams said. “It was just a great defensive anticipation play, and I thought that set the tone. The rest of our team just followed. I thought everybody who was asked to do a job did their job. It’s a great team win.”

Nebraska also won the rebounding battle against Michigan, and that put a smile on Williams’ face, too. The Huskers outrebounded the Wolverines 42-34 in the win. Jaz Shelley recorded a double-double—her fourth of the season—with 12 points and a team-high 12 boards. Markowski hauled down seven rebounds while Sam Haiby had six to go with 10 points and four assists.

Rebounding was a problem in the Michigan State loss, so to get the job done against Michigan was what Williams and her staff wanted to see.

“It really hurt us when we got outrebounded at Michigan State the other day. We spent a lot of time, probably more than our team would like, watching all of those rebounds that we gave up on film,” Williams said. “But more importantly, talking about the things we really needed to do to try to correct that issue, and I thought our kids collectively did a good job of doing that. I thought we did a better job of boxing out and being physical, but the bigger thing was our guards got involved and they really rebounded down the floor and kind of helped us out in that area.”

After taking a 34-21 lead at halftime, the Huskers got a boost from Markowski. The first-year player was feeling it to start the second half and even outscored Michigan herself, 9-8, to start the third. She drilled a 3-pointer in front of her own bench to give Nebraska a 43-29 lead, scored 13 of her team’s 19 points in the quarter and tied her career high of 17 before the fourth even started.

Markowski was starting in place of Bella Cravens, who started the previous 13 games but wasn’t suited up Tuesday and had a boot on her left foot.

“I just really felt like she took advantage of an incredible opportunity and she was the one on the sideline that I could just hear her voice talking about, ‘We’re going to win this game,’ and just being gritty and tough,” Williams said of Markowski. “She just really believes. I love that spirit and I love having her as a Husker.”

Markowski said she found out she was starting the day before the game. She wasn’t surprised her team got the win. Not after how the practices were following the Michigan State loss.

“We’ve practiced so well this week, and we really wanted this win,” Markowski said. “To beat the No. 8 team in the country is just fun all around.”

Michigan made multiple runs at the Husker lead and cut it to 59-49 with 6:50 left in the game. But Nebraska always had an answer. Back-to-back buckets from Haiby and Bourne put the Huskers back on top at 63-49. Shelley nailed a top-of-the-arc 3-pointer. True freshman Allison Weidner came off the bench to provide strong minutes while scoring seven points with two rebounds and two assists.

Even when Nebraska turned the ball over 21 times—Michigan had 15—it always seemed to have an answer. That speaks to the resiliency after the first loss of the season.

“We had some tough turnovers, a couple back-to-back,” Williams said. “It could have been real easy in that moment to kind of crumble, fall apart, panic, change our game plan. But I thought our kids did a great job of focusing on the next play, what needs to happen right now, and we made some big plays and were able to keep that cushion.”

Shelley believes Nebraska made a statement Tuesday night.

“You know we can play tough now,” she said. “We really took that loss to Michigan State kind of personal, and we knew we had to come out and show the nation that we can really compete with these top teams. I’m just really proud.”

The Huskers will look to keep the momentum going on Sunday at 1 p.m. as they host another rated opponent, No. 22 Iowa (7-3).

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