In the WNIT Super 16 round, Nebraska women’s basketball will see some familiar faces.
The Huskers, playing their first away game of the tournament, will match up with Kansas on Thursday. The Jayhawks and Nebraska have played over 80 games against each other in the past 50 years, with the most recent matchup being one of the most thrilling.
Nebraska outlasted a then-undefeated and ranked Kansas team in triple overtime back in December, capping off a season-best five-game winning streak. Isabelle Bourne’s go-ahead three with under a minute to play in the final extra period made the difference.
If both teams knew of an eventual postseason rematch at the time, they likely would’ve figured it to come in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, of course, had still gotten off to a great start to its season. The Huskers had fallen out of their preseason top 25 ranking with losses to teams such as Creighton and Drake, but wins over the Jayhawks and Maryland still had them looking like a tournament team.
But things changed as each lost more games than they won throughout the rest of the regular season and conference tournaments. The Jayhawks were one of the first teams out of the March Madness field, and there’s a chance their loss to last-place TCU in the Big 12 Tournament played a big part in that.
Like Nebraska, Kansas has taken care of business in the first two rounds of the WNIT. Playing the first two games at home, it beat Western Kentucky by 14 before blowing out Missouri 75-47. First team All-Big 12 selections Taiyanna Jackson and Zakiyah Franklin have continued to lead the team.
Those two played big roles in December’s matchup, which was largely a defensive battle until the final overtime. Franklin scored 27 points, accounting for all of the Jayhawks’ scoring in the first two extra periods. She did take 29 shot attempts, however, and shot 1-for-5 in the third overtime. Jackson finished with 18 points and 21 rebounds, but was held scoreless after regulation.
While that pair will be key again on Thursday, Kansas has a balanced starting lineup which it relies on heavily. Junior forward Ioanna Chatzileonti hasn’t played since January, leaving just one bench player for the Jayhawks that averages over 10 minutes per game. Their bench did not score in the win over Missouri.
On that topic, depth will be an important story for both teams. Nebraska has played just two games this season with 11 players available. The first was against Tarleton, where Allison Weidner exited with an eye injury in the first minute and Sam Haiby played six minutes in her season debut before tweaking her knee. The second was the matchup with Kansas, where Bourne returned from an injury, Haiby was in one of her first games back and two-sport athlete Maggie Mendelson had recently joined the team.
Mendelson had one of her best games of the year in that contest, with nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Haiby, playing more minutes than intended, also made big plays coming off the bench.
The Huskers likely won’t have the same depth this time around. Weidner suffered a season-ending knee injury making a chasedown block in the fourth quarter against the Jayhawks. After the second round WNIT win over Northern Iowa, Husker head coach Amy Williams recalled that moment before Nebraska even knew its next opponent. She did so because Haiby had just suffered a lower leg injury against the Panthers, being helped off the floor before returning on crutches.
Haiby’s status isn’t officially known, but if she doesn’t play in the upcoming game, Nebraska will be down to just nine available players. Along with Weidner’s injury, Trinity Brady and Nailah Dillard have also been out for extended periods of time.
Callin Hake might be the top option to move into the starting lineup should Haiby be unavailable, given she’s started a game this year. Hake didn’t play in the first matchup with Kansas, although she was available. Kendall Moriarty would be another option, averaging the most minutes of any bench player.
Nebraska did earn great contributions from its top players back in December’s game — Jaz Shelley scored 24 points, while Alexis Markowski put up 18 points and 10 rebounds. But if the Huskers want to take down Kansas a second time, they’ll need other players to step up again.