The WNIT wasn’t the postseason that Nebraska women’s basketball hoped it’d be playing in during March.
The Huskers came into the season ranked in the top 25, fresh off an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2021-22. However, going 6-11 in the final 17 games of the year, including several losses to some of the worst teams in the Big Ten, helped doom the team’s hopes of returning to March Madness.
Nebraska’s most recent game was a loss to Michigan State on March 2 to open the Big Ten Tournament. The 68-team NCAA field was revealed Sunday, and the Huskers became automatic qualifiers for the WNIT.
Despite the team’s disappointment, there was no doubt as to whether they’d accept the bid.
“There never really was any discussion at all,” head coach Amy Williams said at a Tuesday press conference. “I feel very confident that people in our program love playing for the Huskers. They love putting Nebraska across their chest and to have the opportunity to do that again is an absolute blessing and they’re excited to be out there fighting with each other.”
The message was the same from fifth-year guard Sam Haiby and sophomore center Alexis Markowski.
“Obviously, our goal was to make the NCAA Tournament,” Haiby said. “Coach said yesterday, those dreams change, and we have another opportunity to cut down nets at the end of the season.”
Markowski said the team was aware of their projection, and have used the last weeks of practice to continue improving.
Nebraska starts its WNIT journey against Missouri State on Wednesday, 13 days removed from its loss in the conference tourney. It didn’t know who its opponent would be until Monday though, when the bracket was revealed.
That timeline has impacted how the Huskers have been able to prepare. Williams said some days, the team would work on anything they could possibly need, whether that be zone offense, breaking the press or different types of defense.
“Usually this time of year, you’re not having that type of opportunity,” Williams said. “But then all of a sudden it’s a whirlwind and we had a couple of hours after we learned our opponent until we had practice yesterday. So trying to kind of throw a few things on the practice plan yesterday that would be specific, and then a more in-depth scouting report and prep practice here today.”
The head coach and players pointed out Missouri State’s rebounding ability as its biggest strength. The Bears are a top 10 team in the nation in offensive rebounding, grabbing 16 of their own misses per game, and top 25 on the glass overall. Nebraska’s fourth in the Big Ten in offensive boards with 12.2 per game, and lost a game to each of the three teams above it.
“Our biggest observation right off the front end is if we want to win, rebound,” Williams said.
Also helping Nebraska’s chances of winning is that it’ll host the first round game and potentially more should it advance. The Huskers went 10-5 at home this season, with a 4-8 record on the road.
“I love playing at PBA,” Markowski said. “I love playing in front of our home fans and it definitely is an advantage, especially in postseason to have that home crowd. And we thought Senior Day was gonna be our last time playing at home, so that was really exciting to hear that we’re going to host at PBA and be able to play in front of our fans again.”
The WNIT bracket doesn’t include seeds, so it’s uncertain which teams would host in future rounds. Regardless of where the Huskers play, the postseason goal will stay the same.
“I think this season, we don’t really feel like our team has really capped at playing the very best basketball that we’re capable of,” Williams said. “So to have opportunities to continue to work towards that, it’s a really great opportunity that we don’t want to let slip past us.”