Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers’ Skilled Post Players Put Stress On Opposing Defenses

January 31, 2022

After not playing a game for 10 days, the Nebraska women’s basketball team has rattled off two victories in four. The last of which—a blowout of Purdue on Sunday while Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals were ending the Kansas City Chiefs’ season on their own field at Arrowhead in the AFC Championship—evened the Huskers’ Big Ten record to 4-4, a much better look than the 2-4 mark they had before entering health and safety protocols after the Iowa game on Jan. 16.

Two more conference tilts inside Pinnacle Bank Arena await during this four-game homestand the Huskers find themselves in. The struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights are up next as they visit Lincoln for a 7 p.m. contest on Tuesday night. Rutgers, after a 61-45 home loss to Michigan State on Sunday night, limps into Tuesday’s game with a 7-15 overall record and 0-10 mark in conference play.

During a normal week, Monday would have been a day off for the players so they could catch up on homework and body recovery. But with a game on Tuesday—it was originally set for Thursday, Jan. 20, before the Covid pause—the Huskers’ clock was accelerated, which prompted adjustments. The players had to grind to complete whatever school work and recovery that was needed on Sunday night before getting back at it with game prep and practice on Monday.

With that in mind, Nebraska head coach Amy Williams wasn’t interested in the NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and San Fransisco 49ers, which kicked off shortly after the Huskers had dispatched the Boilermakers. Rutgers, and only Rutgers, was what occupied her attention.

“My coaching staff has done a great job of already watching a lot of film and being ready for Rutgers,” Williams said after the game Sunday. “I won’t be watching football the rest of the day, I’ll be watching a lot of game film on Rutgers so that, before practice tomorrow (Monday), we have a game plan completely put together, and we’re ready with a great practice plan.”

Rutgers plays a different style than Purdue. Williams said the Scarlet Knights are likely going to switch every screen one through five and are “really aggressive defensively and very athletic.”

Each opponent calls for a different and unique game plan. For some teams, that could be a problem. But for the Huskers, it isn’t so much because of the quality depth. Williams’ roster construction has allowed her to throw different lineups on the court and go deep into her bench when needed. Ten Huskers are currently averaging over 10 minutes per game against conference foes.

“We have players that really compliment each other and really compliment our team,” Williams said. “It’s what makes us so special—we can grind out wins, we can push pace and run and get wins, we can shoot from the perimeter and get wins, we can pound it inside and get wins. We can come at you at a lot of different ways.”

Nebraska uses its handful of skilled posts to bully smaller lineups or pull bigger defenders away from the paint, which creates opportunities for its guards to get to the rim. Allison Weidner’s outing against the Boilermakers is a prime example of that. The Humphrey St. Francis grad scored a career-high 14 points in the first half against Purdue thanks to aggressive drives into the lane against a defense that was worried about the 3-point shot.

The Huskers have been starting a pair of 6-foot-3 forwards lately in Alexis Markowski and Bella Cravens, who has recently returned to the lineup following an ankle injury. Markowski and the 6-2 Annika Stewart are bigs who can stretch opposing defenses with their 3-point shot—Markowski is shooting an eye-opening 73% (14-of-19) from behind the arc and is 11-of-14 in her last four games. Stewart is shooting 40% (19-of-47) from 3. The 6-2 Isabelle Bourne has made 10 triples on the year. Then there’s Kendall Coley, a long athlete at 6-2 who, while still searching for her offensive role with the team, has proven that she can be an effective and pesky defender who’s able to guard multiple positions.

“We feel that every game calls for something different, and that allows us to be able to utilize those post players in different ways and different manners,” Williams said. “Each one of them is going to have a game, I feel like, in the next several opportunities with us playing one-day preps and with so many make-up games now that, we’re going to have to lean on all of them to be that one who’s going to bring something and really spark our team at some point.”

Rutgers has struggled to score this season. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 56.1 points per game, which ranks 315th in the country. Osh Brown, a fifth-year player and Ball State transfer who’s the NCAA’s active leader in total rebounds and double-doubles, is averaging 11.8 points and 8.9 boards per game against Big Ten teams. Missouri transfer Shug Dixon is averaging 10.3 points and 3.9 assists in conference play.

The Scarlet Knights have been able to muck things up defensively. They are holding opponents to 59 points per game, which ranks 59th in the nation. That will be an interesting battle to watch unfold—Rutgers’ defense against the high-scoring attack of Nebraska, which is scoring 81.2 points per game, seventh in the country.

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