Coming into a matchup against No. 14 Michigan, Nebraska had split its four prior matchups against ranked opponents.
In the two losses, the Huskers never led, trailing by double digits by the time the opening quarter concluded. In the wins — the two more recent ranked challenges — they played far more even throughout, trading advantages before eventually pulling out the victory.
Wednesday’s battle looked much more like the former pair. Nebraska scored just five points in the first quarter, allowing Michigan to race out to a 19-5 advantage. The Huskers fought back, but never fully recovered, losing 76-59.
The five first-quarter points were the program’s lowest since the sport’s switch to quarters in 2015-16. The Huskers shot 2-for-13 in the period and turned it over five times.
“I thought they pressured us and we didn’t handle it well,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “It wasn’t dead ball turnovers where we were really being aggressive and throwing it out of bounds, they were getting steals, they were doubling down in the post, grabbing the ball from us and taking it and going the other direction. And so we’ve got to get off to a better start be a little bit more ready to play.”
Nebraska challenged the Wolverines at points in front of a home crowd of 8,150, with the difference being single digits at halftime and for the majority of the third quarter. But the Huskers never got the offensive spark to keep up, and Michigan pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Unlike past losses, Jaz Shelley put together a strong performance, and was key to keeping her team in the game. She finished with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting and five assists, turning the ball over just twice. She was forced to work hard for that production, spending much of her 38 minutes on the court traversing sideline to sideline with the ball getting around aggressive defenders and slinging passes to open teammates.
Many of the open shots didn’t end up falling, however. Excluding Shelley, the Huskers shot under 30%, with freshman guard Callin Hake being the only other player to shoot 50% or higher. Those two also accounted for almost all of the success from beyond the arc, with the rest of the team making just one of 18 attempts from deep.
All according to plan for Michigan.
“We were definitely honed in on number 1 (Shelley) and number 40 (Alexis Markowski),” Michigan’s Emily Kiser said postgame. “If they were going to beat us we wanted to see some of their other players score, so that was really a mindset of ours.”
The Wolverines successfully slowed down Markowski, who had five points on just as many shots.
To some degree, Nebraska isn’t looking at this as a one-game aberration, despite the shooting numbers being much lower than the norm. The team’s depth has changed with Allison Weidner announced out for the season with a leg injury suffered in the win against Kansas. The sophomore guard had been one of the team’s best scoring options, averaging 10.2 points per game on 54.1% shooting.
Beyond Shelley and Markowski, there’s been a lack of consistency in multiple ways. Isabelle Bourne is another double-digit scorer, but was held to six points on 3-for-9 shooting against Michigan and recently missed three games with an injury. Fifth-year guard Sam Haiby is continuing to work her way back from injury, making her first start of the season tonight in Weidner’s absence. Maddie Krull also entered the starting lineup earlier this year after Trinity Brady was hurt against Virginia Tech.
Krull has averaged just three points in six starts, shooting 18.5% in those games. Annika Stewart and Kendall Moriarty both set career-highs this year, but have yet to find much consistency. Maggie Mendelson had back-to-back efficient nine-point outings after joining the team this month, yet was held to check against the Wolverines. She didn’t take a shot until the fourth quarter and was in foul trouble throughout the contest.
Hake was a bright spot, though. The true freshman hadn’t made much of an impact in limited minutes coming into the game, not even seeing the floor against Kansas. With a season-high 19 minutes this time, she finished with a season-high 11 points.
The opportunity came as a result of Weidner’s injury, and that remained a major source of inspiration for her.
“With Allison going out, we needed to play for her,” Hake said. “I kind of saw that as my opportunity, just what would Allison do and how can I play for her. She’s an incredible spark, she’s like the heart of our team with her defensive energy and her offensive rebounds.”
Hake served as an example of what the Huskers want to see more of next game, as the Huskers will start off 2023 with a road matchup against No. 4 Indiana.
“Our team is working hard to adjust to some of the lineup changes that we’ve had to try to get used to and we’re just going to keep getting better and I was pleased and thought Callin Hake found a way to come in and really contribute as a freshman who played limited minutes up to this point,” Williams said. “We need more people to be thinking that way in Allison Weidner’s absence.”