The Husker women entered the fourth quarter against Penn State nursing a 53-50 lead inside Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday night.
Nebraska was looking to put away the Nittany Lions in the final 10 minutes so it could end the four-game homestand with a fourth win. Thanks to another strong defensive effort down the stretch and game-sealing performances from two in-state true freshmen—Allison Weidner and Alexis Markowski—the Huskers did just that.
Behind a team-high 18 points from Markowski, 14 each from Weidner and Isabelle Bourne and 12 rebounds and 11 assists from a state-sheet-stuffing guard in Jaz Shelley, the Huskers entered the fourth with a three-point lead and won by 15, 76-61, to improve to 17-4 overall and 6-4 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska’s defense suffocated Penn State in the fourth, holding it to 11 points and 3-of-12 shooting from the field. The Nittany Lions didn’t score a field goal in the last 7 minutes, 16 seconds and settled for five free throws. On Tuesday night, Nebraska held Rutgers scoreless for a seven-minute stretch in the fourth, too, which helped it pull away as well.
What went right defensively? Going into the game, head coach Amy Williams and her staff stressed keeping Penn State’s guards from going downhill off ball screens.
“I thought our kids really got that message. They did a much better job of trying to take some things away,” Williams said. “We did foul a little bit there in those last seven minutes and put them at the free-throw line a little bit too much, we were keyed in and locked in to the game plan. We had some key plays, I thought Allison sparked us obviously offensively, but also with a big play in transition, coming away with a steal and a few deflections.”
Of Nebraska’s 23 fourth-quarter points, a combined 18 came from Weidner and Markowski. Weidner scored 10 in the quarter and tied her career-high with 14 points, which she recorded a couple games ago against Purdue. Markowski had didn’t have as efficient of a night as she’d want—she was 6-of-14 from the field and 6-of-11 at the line—but Penn State had trouble handling her down the stretch. She scored eight of her 18 in the fourth.
“I love those two freshmen,” Williams said. “They really have a lot of energy for our team and their personalities just really spark our team. They’ve had a lot of success out here on this court, and I think they take a lot of pride in wanting to win here.”
After taking 31 3s in the win over Rutgers—and making only six—Nebraska took the ball to the hoop much more against Penn State. The Huskers outscored the Nittany Lions in points in the paint, 40-24, and had 23 assists on 28 field-goal makes.
“That was a key for us, and when the game got tight, we kind of buckled up and did what we knew we would have success with,” Williams said of the post touches. “It was post feeds, and Alexis really sparked us there, and penetration where Allison was really getting herself to the basket.”
Though Shelley scored just six points, her play in the rebounding and assist departments were big. The transfer from Oregon made her second 3 of the game in the third quarter to give her team a 42-30 lead. It was the first time since the Michigan win on Dec. 4 where Shelley got more than one trey to fall in a contest. She was 5-of-22 from 3 in the five games following the win over the Wolverines.
Up next for Nebraska is a road game on Sunday at No. 17 Maryland (16-6, 8-3), winner of its last four games. After four games in eight days, Williams said her players will have a day off before getting back to practice on Saturday morning. Tip for the game against the Terps is scheduled for noon central time.
“They have their entire roster from one year ago back, so they’re very familiar faces, players that we know well,” Williams said of Maryland. “So it’s something that, in your prep, the personnel for our returning players is familiar. And some of the things they do defensively, switching all screens one through five, is not something we see from other teams, but is most definitely something we’ve seen from them in the past.”