The Nebraska women’s basketball team managed to go through its 11-game nonconference schedule undefeated, and even sprinkled in a gritty come-from-behind win on the road over conference foe Minnesota, too.
The Huskers—one of five teams in the country to be undefeated, joining South Carolina, North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado—aim to keep the good vibes rolling as they begin the Big Ten portion of its season. Nebraska travels to East Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday to play the Michigan State Spartans, who enter the contest with a 7-6 overall record and are 1-4 in their last five.
While undefeated Nebraska remained unranked in the AP top-25 poll, head coach Amy Williams’ team is ranked seventh in the latest NET rankings. NET rankings are a tool used to measure a team’s quality and help evaluate team résumés for selection and seeding in the NCAA tournament. It’s determined by who you played, where you played, how efficiently you played and the result of the game.
“That’s not something we talk about as a team, I know it’s kind of brought up more on the outside looking in,” Williams said on Dec. 17 of being unranked in the AP top-25. “But within our walls, we’re way more concerned with what the NET is doing and where we sit in the NET rankings. We know that that’s going to have a factor on our ability to play in postseason and seeding and things like that. So we’re just going to keep focusing on trying to keep that NET ranking as high as we can.”
Williams, who’s in her sixth season at the helm of Nebraska, was recently named the National Coach of the Week by ESPN.
— Nebraska WBB (@HuskersWBB) December 27, 2021
The Huskers are ranked in the top-10 nationally in seven statistical categories heading into their matchup with the Spartans, including scoring offense (7th, 83.5), scoring margin (4th, 28.1), field-goal percentage (5th, 47.8), 3-point field goal percentage (7th, 38.7), defensive rebounds per game (3rd, 32.3), field-goal percentage defense (8th, 32.8) and assists per game (10th, 19).
Thursday’s game could be a high-scoring matchup as Michigan State is averaging 76.9 points per game, but allowing 68. The Huskers’ deep roster has seven players who are averaging seven or more points per game, including Jaz Shelley (14.3), Isabelle Bourne (10.6), Sam Haiby (9.8), Ashley Scoggin (8.9), Alexis Markowski (8.5), Bella Cravens (7.7) and Annika Stewart (7.2).
Throughout the season, the Huskers have had different players step up and lead the team to a win. Shelley, a transfer from Oregon, has been lights-out this season, scoring 30 points to help seal a win over Drexel in San Diego. The Moe, Australia, native also has two double-doubles and one triple-double this season. She’s the team’s leading scorer and has the most assists (57) and steals (19). Even as a 5-foot-9 guard, Shelley has the most blocks on the team with 15 and is second in average rebounds per game with 6.6.
Haiby led Nebraska to the win against her home-state school, Minnesota, by scoring 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter. Markowski recorded back-to-back double-doubles against Indiana State and Drake, and has brought energy off the bench. The sharpshooter Stewart is coming off a career-high 21 points in a win over Wyoming.
While Michigan State has five players averaging seven or more points per outing, the main threat is 5-foot-8 senior guard Nia Clouden, who’s averaging a team-high 21.8 points. Clouden, a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, scored a program-record 50 points in a double-overtime loss to Florida Gulf Coast (8-1) on Dec. 20. That day Clouden went 17-of-28 from the field and 15-of-17 from the free-throw line.
Here’s some clips of Nia Clouden (@NiaClouden) and her 50 point game yesterday. AYOOOO. A whole bucket. @wslam @WomensHoopz @ariivory @Spartan_Vision @NCAAWBB @MSU_WBasketball @LaChinaRobinson @JasTayler pic.twitter.com/IuWkd2tsC1
— lwproductions (@lwproductions4) December 22, 2021
Along with breaking the school record, Clouden’s outburst made her the third player in Big Ten women’s basketball history to score 50 points. It also stands as the most points scored by a player this season. Clouden is shooting 48% from the field, 40% (20-of-50) from 3-point range and 90% (89-of-98) from the free-throw line.
“They have a player who put up 50. When Jaz scored 30 and Sam had 30 for a couple games, it felt like a million to me, and that’s not 50,” Williams said of Clouden Tuesday night during an appearance on ‘Sports Nightly.’ “So, obviously, she’s a great player. But they have some really good pieces around her. Welcome to Big Ten play. It’s going to be a tough challenge on the road.”
The Spartans have two others who they’ve leaned on this season in Alyza Winston and Matilda Ekh, who are averaging double figures in scoring. Winston, a 5-7 junior guard from Muskegon, Michigan, is pouring in 12.2 points per game while Ekh, a 6-foot freshman guard/forward from Sweden, is averaging 10 points and shooting 45% (24-of-53) from 3.
Nebraska and Michigan State are scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.