Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Huskers Close Nonconference Play With Matchup Against No. 20 Kansas

December 20, 2022

The Nebraska women’s basketball team has faced a number of tough opponents in nonconference play, and it’ll have one more test before the slate comes to a close. 

The Huskers take on No. 20 Kansas at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday. The Jayhawks are the third ranked nonconference team Nebraska has faced, with the others being No. 20 Creighton and No. 9 Virginia Tech. Both teams beat the Huskers by double digits and have remained in the top 25 — the Bluejays are down to No. 21, while the Hokies are up a spot to No. 8.

Nebraska’s also played a few other strong non-ranked teams with mixed results. Following the loss to Creighton, the Huskers lost to Drake by double-digits on the road. However, they beat a currently 10-2 Mississippi State team in the Puerto Rico Clasico and took down Wyoming on Sunday.

They’ve been having success as of late, with four straight wins, including a top-25 win on the road against conference opponent No. 20 Maryland. This will be the first time this year Nebraska plays a ranked team at home as well.

The team is looking to continue that momentum, and improve on what they’ve seen in both the wins and losses. In the past two games, Nebraska’s had slower starts in the first half and come out stronger in the second. The Samford game was a stark example of that, as the Huskers scored just 15 points in the first half before putting up 56 in the final two quarters. Head coach Amy Williams is looking for a more complete performance in the upcoming matchup.

“We’re playing another ranked opponent and undefeated team in here on Wednesday,” Williams said after the win over Wyoming. “If we think that we’re going to be able to do it with just one good half of basketball, we’re going to be sadly mistaken.”

The Jayhawks are one of 10 currently undefeated teams in the nation. They reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last season, and have impressed early this year. Their win over then-No. 12 Arizona almost two weeks ago propelled the team into the top 25 for the first time since 2013, and they’ve won two games since.

As has been the case with many Husker opponents early this year, Kansas has found its success primarily through defense. It holds the No. 19 scoring defense, and only five teams have held opponents to a lower field goal percentage. The Jayhawks are No. 23 in the country in blocks per game, being led in that area by Taiyanna Jackson.

The junior center and 2021-22 Big 12 All-Defensive Team member averages 2.8 rejections per game, a mark that puts her No. 8 in the nation.

The Huskers are familiar with going up against strong defenses and top-tier shot blockers. Virginia Tech and Mississippi State both own top-five scoring defenses and Bulldogs center Jessika Carter averages 2.83 blocks. Wyoming is another top-20 program in keeping opponent scoring down, and Drake is a top-10 shot blocking unit.

Nebraska has held opponents to 51.5 points per game during its current winning streak, and wins over Mississippi State and Wyoming were fairly low-scoring affairs. The matchup with the Bulldogs went to overtime, which added to the final totals, but both teams scored 57 points in regulation. Wednesday’s game could be another where the teams aren’t lighting up the scoreboard.

Kansas currently is tied at No. 50 in the nation in points per game, and its field goal percentage is also in the top 50. Jackson is having a breakout season on that end, leading the team with 15.6 points per game on 66.3% shooting. She’ll test Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski in the paint, being accompanied by four others averaging over 9.5 points per game.

Zakiyah Franklin will be the guard to watch. She’s averaging 14.6 points per game, coming off a 26-point showing against Tulsa. She’s shooting 50.5% from the field, and 47.6% from beyond the arc.

That 3-point shooting number comes on relatively limited attempts, which is not uncommon for the Jayhawks. They’re No. 223 in the nation in 3-point attempts with 17.8 per game, shooting at a mark of 29.8% as a team. For reference, Nebraska launches over 25 deep shots per game, hitting at a clip of 35.9%. Each of the three teams to beat Nebraska this season shot over 40% from beyond the arc in their wins.

Availability on each side is also something to keep an eye on when these teams take the floor. The Huskers are up to 10 available players, with Sam Haiby returning from injury and Maggie Mendelson making her season debut on Sunday. Neither played more than 10 minutes, as Haiby — a starter the past three seasons — is being cautiously reworked into the lineup and Mendelson just joined the team last week after finishing the volleyball season.

Despite these additions, the team is still down two starters. Trinity Brady and Isabelle Bourne are currently out with injuries, and both of their statuses are day-to-day. Either would bring more depth to the lineup, and the status of Bourne, a double-digit scorer and all-conference honorable mention the last two seasons, could especially make a difference.

On the other side, Kansas’ Holly Kersgieter missed her team’s most recent game. She’s averaging 13.8 points per game this season, and was a conference first-team selection last season. She’s one of the Jayhawks’ top 3-point shooters, taking them at the highest volume although her percentage from beyond the arc so far has been low.

Regardless of who is on the floor, both teams will aim to keep their winning streaks going. The challenges won’t stop for the Huskers, as they’ll follow up next game with two ranked conference foes in Michigan and Indiana.

“It’s super important that we kind of go into this next game against Kansas, and then after the Christmas break to keep playing with that confidence,” Haiby said after Sunday’s win. “Conference season is the most important thing and we want to be playing our best basketball in March.”

 

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