Photo Credit: John Peterson

Nebraska Women’s Basketball’s Season Ends With WNIT Loss to Kansas

March 23, 2023

Nebraska women’s basketball’s season came to an end in the WNIT Super 16 on Thursday, never leading in a 64-55 loss to Kansas.

The Jayhawks got ahead early, controlling the paint on both ends of the floor and carried that to victory. The Huskers stayed in the game throughout, trailing by single-digits for most of the contest and even tying the game in the third quarter, but could never get out in front. They didn’t score for the final three minutes of the game, putting an end to a season where the team didn’t meet the expectations they set at the beginning of it.

“We are disappointed to see our season come to an end as we felt like we really were poised to make a deep run in this tournament,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “We’ve had to overcome some adversity on the way. But I’m so proud of the way that our team stayed together and fought and overcame.”

The uphill battle started well before Kansas center Taiyanna Jackson scored the game’s first points. Fifth-year guard Sam Haiby was injured in Sunday’s second round WNIT win over Northern Iowa, and she shared earlier Thursday afternoon that it would end her season.

When Nebraska beat Kansas in triple overtime in December, Haiby and starting guard Allison Weidner made major impacts. On this night, they were without either in a game in which their ability to force their way to the hoop for layups would’ve served the team well. Williams said that was the biggest difference between the two games.

“We were shorthanded,” the head coach said. “First of all. Kansas is not playing without one of their starters and key pieces, and we are and I think that matters.”

She quickly corrected herself on that claim about the Jayhawks, given that three-year starting forward Ioanna Chatzileonti — who had 10 points and seven rebounds against Nebraska in the regular season — has been injured since January.

“[Chatzileonti] had a really good game against us the first time but I think that was a big piece for it,” Williams continued after acknowledging her error. “Their five starters that they’ve been playing most of the second half of this season with found ways to all contribute, and I think that was one of the biggest differences.”

Scoring started with the star of Kansas’ lineup as Jackson scored the first six points. She got the best of Alexis Markowski multiple times early, blocking one of the Husker center’s first shot attempts on the other end. Markowski finished the game with two points on 1-for-10 shooting, being in early foul trouble that limited her to seven first-half minutes.

Nine of Nebraska’s 13 first-quarter points came thanks to the 3-pointer, as the team struggled to get good looks inside. Kansas led by five at the end of the opening period.

The last five minutes of the first half and first four of the third quarter were the Huskers’ best stretch. After the Jayhawks extended their lead to 11 midway through the second quarter, Nebraska cut it to five by halftime. A 6-0 third-quarter run continued that momentum and tied it up, but Kansas was back up five again a minute later.

Still, Nebraska outscored the Jayhawks in the third quarter thanks to a buzzer-beating layup from Maggie Mendelson. Kendall Moriarty, making her first career start, scored eight of her 10 points in the second and third quarters, also finishing the game with a pair of steals and a block.

“I thought she was just trying to find any way she could to raise her level of play and step up because our team needed her to do that,” Williams said.

Her contributions, along with plays made consistently by Jaz Shelley and Isabelle Bourne, proved not to be enough. Despite three turnovers and some missed layups, Bourne’s 17 points and six rebounds were team-highs. Shelley had 12 points, nine assists and three steals, but shot 5-for-15 from the field and 1-for-5 on free throws. Her lone turnover was taken all the way to the rim for a layup by Chandler Prater to put Kansas back up seven in the final quarter.

The Jayhawks made their last field goal with four minutes left to go up seven points, but Nebraska shot 1-for-6 after that. After the make at the three-minute mark made it a five-point game, it took over a minute for the Huskers to get their next shot attempt up. The teams traded turnovers, then the Huskers missed the opportunity for a steal and gave up multiple offensive rebounds.

While that Kansas possession still ended without points, the Jayhawks’ six offensive boards and eight second-chance points in the fourth quarter played a part in Nebraska’s loss. Jackson had three of those rebounds, capping off a 16-point, 12-rebound, three-block performance. Prater also had a double-double with 14 points and 16 rebounds.

In reflecting on the season postgame, Williams said she loved this year’s team. She said that their biggest wins proved they could compete with any team in the country, but they didn’t put it together consistently enough to meet their NCAA Tournament goals.

The upcoming offseason will be a big one, with Haiby’s Husker career over and seniors Shelley and Bourne facing the decision of whether they’ll return for another season. For the moment, the head coach is going to put emphasis on the positives.

“We’re going to just cherish the memories that we made together and really focus on that for now,” Williams said. “Then we’ll get busy when the time is right, trying to really fully evaluate what ways we can continue to improve moving forward.”

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