Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Beats Wyoming 66-39 as Mendelson Debuts, Haiby Returns

December 18, 2022

Sam Haiby and Maggie Mendelson checked into Nebraska’s game against Wyoming to sizable applause.

The official entry of both onto the court in the first quarter was something to be celebrated, with different reasons for each. In the case of the former, Haiby was making her second run at a season debut. The fifth-year guard, thought to be out for the season months ago, tried once against Tarleton before exiting with an injury in the third quarter.

Mendelson, on the other hand, had been finishing up another commitment. Just over a week ago, the dual-sport athlete was with the Husker volleyball program during their NCAA Tournament run. After their season ended, she began practicing with this team over the past week.

On this day, it was Mendelson who made the greatest impact of any player off the bench. Along with nine points, she blocked three shots — including back-to-back rejections in the third quarter. So soon after finishing one season with a strong defensive volleyball team, she found herself as a centerpiece of Nebraska women’s basketball’s 66-39 win in which the Huskers forced 21 turnovers.

“They forced us into some uncharacteristic turnovers for our team,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “But we found a way to overcome that and play great defense and to hold a quality opponent like that to 39 points, I thought our kids locked in on the defensive side of the ball.”

Along with the blocks, Mendelson made both of her shot attempts and all five free throws in 10 minutes played. Postgame, she said that she’s still adjusting, especially on the offensive end.

“Definitely a little rusty, tried to throw up some wack shots,” she said. “But that’s okay, got to the line, did a little bit better than I expected there, but just really grateful to be out there with my teammates.”

Given her official mark of 2-for-2 from the field, one of the “wack” shots in question may refer to a badly missed fadeaway that still ended up drawing a foul call. She also turned it over during her minute-long stint on the floor in the opening quarter. The Huskers as a whole had struggles on the offensive end, despite finishing with a mark of 50% shooting. They turned it over 20 times, and their 66 points were their lowest output in a win this season.

Alexis Markowski and Allison Weidner did not experience those struggles for the most part, however. The former had 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting, adding 10 rebounds and three blocks of her own. Weidner scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, also pulling down seven boards and coming up with a pair of steals.

Markowski scored the game’s first seven points, giving Nebraska a lead it never lost. However, Wyoming hung with the Huskers for the majority of the game before being outscored 20-5 in the final quarter.

Haiby scored her first point of the year from the free throw line before a Wyoming layup made the score 8-6. Nebraska broke off a 9-0 run to begin the second quarter too, but the advantage was still just seven points at halftime. Over half of the team’s 27 first-half points were scored in a four-minute stretch to begin the contest and a two-minute span to open the second quarter.

Any sign of Nebraska breaking free usually ended in a response from the Cowgirls. Midway through the third quarter, they hit back-to-back threes to cut the deficit down to four points. But Weidner had her own response, grabbing an offensive rebound and finishing an and-one.

That’s also when Nebraska’s defensive pressure really began making an impact. The team’s full-court press forced a backcourt violation and pass thrown out of bounds, the turnovers resulting in a two free throws then an and-one for Mendelson. A steal and easy fastbreak finish from Kendall Moriarty capped off a 12-2 run, and the Huskers led by 12 heading into the final period.

The momentum carried over, as the Huskers scored at a solid pace and shut down the Cowgirls. For most of the quarter, Wyoming’s only points were a pair of free throws. That only changed with a 3-pointer with two seconds left that prevented the margin of victory from being 30 points.

Wyoming was without head coach Heather Ezell, who yesterday was announced to be taking a leave of absence for the impending birth of her child. Ryan Larsen, a former assistant under Williams at South Dakota, served as coach.

His first game at the helm for the Cowgirls was an uncharacteristic one for the team. Their 21 turnovers were a far cry for a squad that had been one of the best in the nation in that category coming into the day.

“The very first thing we told the team when we were starting our prep for Wyoming is they just don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Williams said. “They’re just a team that is very solid. They don’t turn the ball over. And so for us to force them into 21 turnovers. I thought that said something about what we were trying to do defensively.”

Nebraska has now won four straight games, each by more than 20 points. It’ll look to produce similar success on Wednesday, as the Huskers will face another top 25 team in No. 22 Kansas. That game will also close the program’s nonconference slate before they go fully into Big Ten play.

“There’s no easy games with our schedule,” Markowski said. “We have Kansas and then Michigan and Indiana. So every game matters and just taking it one game at a time and every win is a good win.

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