The matchup earlier this week between Nebraska and Creighton had a near-perfect set-up.
On Tuesday night at D.J. Sokol Arena, the Huskers and Bluejays headed into what may have been the most intriguing game ever between the two on paper. Both programs were ranked and looking to build on breakout seasons. The attendance figure of 2,306 might not pop out to many, but it was the program’s first ever sellout in the arena. Not to mention, the red against blue uniform matchup was aesthetically pleasing. Even with it being televised only on FloSports, it was a can’t-miss matchup between top-25 in-state rivals.
Yet, as we now know, the actual game didn’t quite deliver for anyone but Creighton fans. The Bluejays won 77-51, having control of the game the whole way despite missing a starter due to injury. There are still great things that came from the action, such as the great crowd and Molly Mogensen seemingly being unable to miss for stretches. But it would’ve been nice if the game was at least competitive.
Creighton was the better team on Tuesday night. There’s no way around that. The Bluejays have more than earned their top-20 ranking, perhaps even being deserving of a move into the top 15. It’ll be fun to watch them continue through a tough nonconference schedule, as they play 2021 NCAA Tournament team Arkansas (currently 4-0) and No. 2 Stanford.
The bigger culprit for the margin of victory may have been Nebraska itself, though. When even Creighton head coach Jim Flanery seems surprised about his team holding the Huskers to 51 points, that’s a decent sign. The Huskers came out sloppy on offense, recording a number of travels, bad passes and blown open shots. Three starters had four turnovers each.
The Bluejays arguably could’ve scored more, too. They shot well from beyond the arc at 11-for-24, but it felt like the most open opportunities were the ones they missed.
If it’s any consolation, Nebraska didn’t have the worst loss in a top-25 matchup this week. That honor goes to No. 16 Oklahoma, which lost 78-124 to No. 25 Utah.
Of course, there’s no reason to overreact to the Husker loss. Good teams have bad nights. No. 4 Iowa has learned that too, pulling out a narrow overtime victory against Drake on Sunday before losing to Kansas State yesterday. Neither of those teams are bad by any means, but that’s not what you’d expect from a top-five team.
Nebraska’s top players, Jaz Shelley and Alexis Markowski, played fairly well in the loss. The Huskers showed some flashes on defense, including a few impressive blocks. They surely won’t have many more shooting nights like this, if any. If there are things to have some concerns about right now, I wonder a bit about depth and how this team will perform on the road.
Right now, the Huskers seem to have four players they can rely on for some level of consistency. Along with Shelley and Markowski, Isabelle Bourne has been a solid player for a couple of years now and Allison Weidner has made significant contributions in all three games. Weidner might not always score like she did in the first two matchups, but she can contribute in that area and is valuable as a rebounder.
Those four alone being consistent will win Nebraska quite a bit of games. If Sam Haiby comes back at some point this season, that’ll make a really impressive starting lineup. But beyond that, I wonder if anyone will emerge as a reliable scoring option off the bench. Maddie Krull and Annika Stewart might be top candidates for that.
As for the second concern, Nebraska was 5-6 on the road last year, including losses to Michigan State and Penn State. Its best wins came at home or at a neutral site. It could certainly be nothing, but it’s something worth watching.
There’s a few opportunities to disprove that idea early, too. The Huskers play Drake on Saturday in Iowa, where the aforementioned Hawkeyes nearly lost. A win in that game would be a nice sign for the team. The biggest test, though, will come against a top-15 team that could reach the top 10 by the time December rolls around. The Huskers will face off against No. 14 Virginia Tech on the road on Dec. 1. Preseason All-American and projected first round WNBA draft pick Elizabeth Kitley will not make that game easy.
Challenges like those and a home matchup with Kansas make this year’s nonconference slate potentially the hardest Amy Williams has faced as head coach of the Huskers, with the only challenger being the 2016-17 schedule in her first year.
It makes sense for a team with big expectations. The Huskers came up short in their first opportunity to produce a big win, but they’ve got plenty more ahead.