The Nebraska women (16-4 overall, 5-4 in Big Ten play) are now above .500 in conference play after a Tuesday night home win over Rutgers, but it was anything but easy.
Don’t get things twisted—the game wasn’t easy on the eyes. Both teams were ice cold from the field. Nebraska shot 27% (17-of-61) from the field while Rutgers was at 32% (16-of-49). The Huskers won 50-38, and the 50 points is a season low for head coach Amy Williams’ team, which came into the game with the seventh-ranked offense in the country, scoring 81.2 points per game. The Scarlet Knights muddied the game up on the defensive end and didn’t back down despite their winless record in conference play.
After the game, Williams said things were “ugly” offensively. But while the Huskers had trouble putting the ball in the hoop—those kind of nights happen for every team—there was a positive lesson learned: Nebraska can win different styles of games.
We know the Huskers can score. But the team also proved it can come out of a gritty rock fight with a victory. Take the fourth quarter for example. The Scarlet Knights had cut their deficit to just two points, 36-34, at one point in the final quarter. But that’s as close as the visitors from Piscataway, New Jersey, got to an upset. The Husker defense stiffened up and didn’t allow a score for a stretch of over seven minutes.
That’s the reason Nebraska avoided a loss to the worst team in the Big Ten, which would have been a disaster and a black mark on its résumé. Guard Jaz Shelley said she obviously doesn’t prefer playing in those low-scoring affairs, but when they happen, she’s confident her team will be able to adapt.
“As it showed in the last game against Purdue toward the end of the game, and Rutgers, they play very similar. This is something we have to adjust to,” Shelley said. “I think we handled it a lot better than against Purdue, but we need to be stronger. We need to go back to the whiteboard and we need to find ways to get open and play with pace, but I think we’re definitely working on it. We know the areas we need to improve. So we’re gonna work on that.”
Clutch 3-point makes from Sam Haiby and Shelley helped the Huskers pull away in the fourth. So did Alexis Markowski’s play. The true freshman from Lincoln Pius X High School had yet another strong outing, scoring a team-high 16 points while grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds. Williams and her players have been harping on winning the rebounding battle all season. If that happens, and it did against Rutgers 45-38, the chances of winning games in the Big Ten rises.
After Thursday’s home game against Penn State, the Huskers will have played four games in eight days. That’s due to schedule reshuffling from the health-and-safety protocols that caused them to go on a pause and 10 days without playing.
“I think definitely there’s a bit a tiredness, but that’s an excuse. I mean, we needed to find a strength. I think our strengths are inside and we didn’t utilize that,” Shelley said of the Huskers, who made just six of their 31 3-point attempts. “There was some areas that we could have went to when our shooting was missing, but I think we really locked down the defensive end. And we’re gonna have those shooting lulls, those scoring lulls, and I think that we really stepped up on the defensive end.”
Sure, there are challenges to playing four games in eight days. There’s naturally going to be fatigue, no matter how deep the Husker bench goes. And by the way, the bench is very deep—nine players are averaging 10 or more minutes per game.
But, there’s a silver lining to playing that many games in a short amount of time. It’s preparation for what may be ahead.
“We’re choosing to really embrace that as an incredible opportunity to prepare us for the potentials of postseason, and knowing that when you get into a Big Ten tournament or hopefully postseason tournament, you’re going to be having to play back-to-back days, so just training our bodies a little bit right now for some of that,” Williams said of the four-games-in-eight-days stretch. “And this is kind of the consequence of us having a little bit of a break in the midst of our season and so we’re choosing to really embrace it and and kind of use that to our advantage and preparing us for later on down the road.”
Looking Ahead to Penn State
Penn State (9-11, 3-7) ranks 39th nationally in two categories: field-goal percentage and blocked shots. The Nittany Lions have made 44.6% of their attempts from the field and are swatting 4.6 shots per game.
Makenna Marisa is averaging a team-high 22 points for an offense that ranks 65th in the country in average scoring at 71.2 points. The 5-foot-11 guard is shooting 37% (48-of-128) from behind the arc and is dishing out a team-best 4.2 assists per night. She’s scored 30 or more points three times this year, with her season-high of 33 coming in a win over Duquesne.
Outside of Marisa, the Nittany Lions have just one player averaging 10 or more points: 6-4 post Ali Brigham. Brigham is averaging 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Penn State will come to Lincoln as losers of their last four games. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.