Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Grinds Out Win over Rutgers with Strong Fourth-Quarter Defense

February 01, 2022

It wasn’t pretty, but as they say in sports: A win is a win. And Nebraska has picked up three of those in a row.

Behind 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds from true freshman Alexis Markowski and key late buckets from veteran guard Sam Haiby, the Nebraska women improved to 16-4 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten play with a 50-38 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights inside a quiet and sleepy Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night.

“The fact that we are deep and versatile and we can win in a lot of different ways—this way today, we had to grind one out and it was a definite grind,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said after the game. “Pretty ugly on the offensive side, but I think it’s a credit to both teams’ defenses to come in here and just really fight and make everything difficult on both sides of the ball. So we’re happy that we came out in the win column.”

It was a poor shooting night for both teams. That allowed Rutgers, which stayed winless in conference play at 0-11, to stay in the game for all four quarters. Nebraska shot 27% (17-of-61) from the field while the Scarlet Knights were at 32% (16-of-49). The Huskers also shot 31 3-pointers, making just six of them.

Nebraska led 27-18 at the half. The two teams combined to shoot 17-of-65 from the field in the first two quarters. Williams said Rutgers’ defense was doing little things that helped force way more turnovers, 16, then the Huskers were OK with.

“I thought just being aggressive on ball handlers and taking passes away,” Williams said of Rutgers’ defensive game plan. “I thought they really did a nice job of over-helping to the post, and we’ve had a lot of success here lately by just being able to get points in the paint and paint touches, and I thought they really tried to front and bring help side from the weak side and pack it in, and we didn’t particularly shoot the ball from the 3-point line very well, and so that made it a little bit more difficult to be able to get those paint touches.”

Rutgers went on a 10-2 run and cut the Husker lead to 33-28 with a little under three minutes left in the third. But an old-fashioned three-point play from Haiby stopped the Scarlet Knights’ momentum and gave the Husker faithful something to get loud about. Haiby finished with 12 points, six rebounds and two assists. She went 3-of-5 from 3 in the win, and those three makes tied her season high for the third time this season.

Rutgers didn’t let the Huskers build on that, though, and Nebraska held just a 36-30 edge heading into the fourth. The Scarlet Knights cut the Huskers’ lead to 36-34 at one point early in the fourth, but a 3 from both Haiby and Jaz Shelley put Nebraska back on top, 42-34, with six minutes left in the game. Shelley added eight points to go along with five boards and five assists.

That’s when the defense took over. The Huskers held Rutgers scoreless for a stretch that lasted over seven minutes. Haiby’s 3 in the fourth was a clutch shot, and it didn’t go unnoticed by her head coach.

“I thought Sam Haiby really sparked us in the fourth quarter when they kind of got it a little bit close and things could be kind of tensing up, and then you have a fourth-year player that’s kind of our most experienced player step up,” Williams said. “She made a huge 3, she made some really great plays.”

Markowski really helped her team out at the free-throw line. The Lincoln Pius X High School graduate came into the game as a 61% free-throw shooter, but on Tuesday night she was a perfect 6-for-6.

“It was very physical tonight. I got some good bruises,” Markowski said. “But Rutgers is a really physical team. They’re close with every team they play and we knew coming in that they were going to come in and give us a fight. They had nothing to lose.”

Markowski also spearheaded the rebounding battle, which was an important one to win. The Huskers outrebounded Rutgers 45-38.

“We knew that rebounding was going be a huge key in this ball game, and I thought Lex did a great job coming away with a career-high 15 rebounds for her,” Williams said. “And Bella (Cravens) and Issie (Bourne), they may not have had the numbers rebounding wise, but I thought they did a great job. There were times where it was like, ‘I may not get this rebound, but you’re not going to get it either.’ They just really did a great job of keeping Osh Brown, who’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, to two offensive rebounds.”

Next up for the Huskers is a Thursday night contest at home against Penn State. Tipoff for that game is slated for 7 p.m.

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