It hasn’t been easy for the Husker women in Madison, Wisconsin.
Before Wednesday night’s battle at the Badgers’ house, Nebraska won once in its last three tries inside the Kohl Center. In 2020, the Huskers snuck away with a 72-71 win. Before that, Nebraska had back-to-back losses by the scores of 70-69 in 2019 and 82-56 in 2017.
Per usual, it was a tough game for the Huskers this time around. But Nebraska, which beat Wisconsin by 33 points back home inside Pinnacle Bank Arena on Jan. 27, is in the midst of a strong season. And behind 20 points from dynamic guard Jaz Shelley and double-digit scoring from three other starters—Isabelle Bourne (14 points), Alexis Markowski (11 points, nine rebounds) and Sam Haiby (11 points, seven rebounds, three assists)—Nebraska picked up its 21st win and clinched a winning record in Big Ten play with an 80-70 victory.
“This is a tough place to come and win,” head coach Amy Williams told the Huskers Radio Network. “Any road win in the Big Ten is really, really tough, so I’m proud of our team for buckling up.”
Jaz Shelley’s play in the fourth quarter was a big reason why the Huskers flew home with a win. Nebraska led 56-47 at the end of the third, but the Badgers never really went away. The hosts cut their deficit to five points, 58-53, but Nebraska responded with a 8-0 run that began with an and-1 bucket from Bourne and ended with a 3 from Shelley, who went 4-of-8 from deep.
When Wisconsin started to find life again and cut Nebraska’s lead to nine at 71-62, there Shelley was with a layup to stop the momentum. When Halle Douglass put the Badgers within nine points again, Shelley appeared—again—with her fourth and final dagger triple. Haiby’s four free throws after that sealed the deal. The Huskers, by the way, went 15-of-19 at the charity stripe.
Usually, Shelley is doing damage in the assist category. Although she was held to four assists Wednesday—she came in averaging five and dished off a career-high 12 on Sunday against Minnesota—Shelley has shown she can hurt defenses in the scoring column, too. Wednesday night’s performance was her fourth game this season scoring at least 20 points.
“I tell Jaz to be aggressive every night, and some days she’s aggressive by really putting pressure and making the right passes to people, and sometimes she’s aggressive by looking for her own shot, and I thought tonight she made some huge plays and knocked down some big shots in key moments. She’s pretty good about being able to determine what our team needs from her.”
Nebraska ended the first half on a 14-2 run to take a 40-31 lead at halftime, and two players had strong contributions off the bench.
Mi’Cole Cayton provided a spark against Minnesota, then did it again against the Badgers. First, the grad transfer from California drilled a 3. Next time down the court, she converted a layup. Then she helped force a Wisconsin turnover on the other end of the court by defending a back-cut well. Cayton’s plays helped turn a 33-31 Nebraska lead into a 38-31 edge.
“That was a really, really important stretch for us,” Williams said. “She’s (Cayton) been playing with great confidence and really sparking us at different times throughout the games. I’m happy that she could do that and have that success out here again. Our team really needed her today.”
But Nebraska was able to grab a nine-point lead at the half thanks to Whitney Brown, a second-year player from Northwest High School in Grand Island. With the final seconds of the first half ticking down, the ball swung to Brown, who pump-faked her defender to create space and drilled a mid-range jumper just before the buzzer.
Cayton and Brown were two pieces to a bench that outscored Wisconsin’s bench 16-0.
Late in the second quarter, Nebraska’s defense hunkered down against the Badgers, who had cooled off from the floor after a strong start. The Huskers’ man-to-man defense held the hosts scoreless for the last six minutes and 13 seconds.
Freshman guard Allison Weidner, who made her fourth start of her career, scored eight points with three rebounds and three assists. Bella Cravens added seven points and five boards.
Nebraska will host the Northwestern Wildcats (15-10, 7-7)) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in its final game of the regular season. The game will be televised live by the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten tournament begins March 2 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.