Going into Wednesday night’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge women’s basketball game between Nebraska and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Demon Deacons’ defense was the talk of the matchup.
Wake Forest’s perimeter defense was especially tough—it was holding opponents to just 18.1% from behind the arc. But Nebraska’s sharpshooter and all-around playmaker from Moe, Australia, Jaz Shelley, put that to the test.
Shelley, Nebraska’s talented transfer guard from Oregon, went 3-for-3 from behind the arc in the first quarter alone. Those triples helped the Huskers start the game off on the right foot, and the rout was on from there.
Behind Shelley’s 18 points, six rebounds and six assists, as well as a strong performance from its bench, led by grad transfer MiCole Cayton, Nebraska blew out Wake Forest 86-60 to improve to 8-0. The loss was the Demon Deacons’ first as they drop to 7-1. The win marks the first time Nebraska has started 8-0 since the 2009–10 season.
Not only did Nebraska outshoot Wake Forest from 3-point range— the Huskers shot 36% (10-of-28) to only 13% (3-of-24) for the Demon Deacons—in the win, it also controlled the paint, too, holding a 42-26 scoring advantage.
The paint is where Nebraska made its money.
“We know that, in order for us to have opportunities from behind the arc, we’re going to have to get paint touches,” Husker head coach Amy Williams told the Huskers Radio Network after the game. “It’s kind of that inside post presence that allows you to collapse a defense enough to be able to find open opportunities from behind the arc. While I’m thrilled we hit 10 threes and we shot a pretty decent percentage from behind the arc, I think the fact that we had 42 points in the paint is really balancing that and makes us play at our best.”
It seemed like Nebraska could do no wrong in the game. Even when a few starters were taken out of the game with two fouls midway through the second quarter, Williams’ bench came up big. Cayton, a transfer guard from California who has battled injuries in her career, scored all 12 of her points in the second, helping Nebraska stretch its 19-15 first-quarter lead to 43-30 at halftime.
Cayton went 5-of-6 from the field in the second and hit both of the 3s she took.
“I’m incredibly proud of that young lady,” Williams said of Cayton. “If anybody knew the true story of everything she’s overcome, to be producing the way she did in the game today, I think it’ll make a good movie or book some day. But just an absolutely incredible performance from her today. I thought she came in and really sparked us and played the way she can play.”
Nebraska’s bench outscored Wake Forest’s 38-8. Cayton wasn’t the only non-starter to get it going for the Huskers. Kendall Coley had eight points (2-for-4 from 3) and two rebounds. Allison Weidner added six points. Annika Stewart scored five points with three rebounds. Alexis Markowski had three points and five boards.
“I thought our bench really produced today. It was really good for us to lean on them,” Williams said.
Wake Forest made things interesting to start the second half. Elise Williams went on a personal 6-2 run to start the third that cut the Demon Deacons’ deficit to 11 points, 45-36, but Nebraska squashed that momentum when it answered with a 7-0 run that included five points from Isabelle Bourne and two free throws from Weidner.
Bourne finished with nine points and five rebounds. Bella Cravens had another strong game inside for the Huskers with 10 points and six boards.
Nebraska’s defense seemed to bother Wake Forest’s top player, Jewel Spear, who came into the game averaging 19.4 points while shooting 37% (18-of-48) from behind the arc. On Wednesday, she finished with 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting, which included a less-than-stellar 2-of-11 night from 3.
Next up for Nebraska is a road trip to Minneapolis on Monday to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-3). After the game at Minnesota, the Huskers will finish their non-conference slate with home games against Indiana State, Drake and Wyoming.