With their fourth-year veteran guard Sam Haiby sitting on the bench with her right shoulder wrapped in ice, the Nebraska Cornhuskers leaned on two true freshmen—Alexis Markowski and Allison Weidner—as it flirted with knocking off the No. 6-ranked Indiana Hoosiers on Thursday night.
With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Huskers trailed by 17 points. They were able to claw back, though, and cut their deficit to 68-65 with 24 seconds left in the game. That’s as close as Nebraska got to an upset win, however, as its rally fell short, 72-65. The Huskers’ record drops to 13-3 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play. Indiana improves to 13-2 with a perfect 5-0 mark against conference foes.
“We competed, we fought, we scratched, we put ourselves in a position to be back in the ball game. I’m pleased with that,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams told the Huskers Radio Network after the game. “But in this league, it’s so brutally competitive, and you’re going to have to play for 40 minutes, and we did not do that here today. And I think in both of the ball games where we’ve gone on the road and then had a last-minute adjustment to game plan and changes to who’s going to be in the lineup—we have not handled that well, we have not adjusted well. That’s something that we’re going to have to correct.”
Indiana was on its game to start, and the fact that its leading scorer and rebounder, All-Big Ten forward Mackenzie Holmes, was a late scratch due to a knee injury didn’t seem to matter either. Holmes was a key part to Williams’ game plan, and when she didn’t play, the Huskers had to adjust what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.
The Hoosiers went on a pair of sizable runs—8-0 in the first quarter and 9-0 in the second—in the first half that helped them take a 44-31 lead into halftime. They didn’t play many players in the game—only six—but still managed to play fast while zipping passes up the court and making mid-range shots.
Indiana had nine fast-break points to the Huskers’ three in the first half. It connected on 54.5% (18-of-33) of its shots from the field and had three players in double figures, including Nicole Cardaño-Hillary (13 points), Aleksa Gulbe (12) and Grace Berger (12).
But Nebraska kept fighting.
The Huskers outscored the Hoosiers, who were clearly exhausted in the fourth, 22-15 in the final 10 minutes. Nebraska went on an 8-0 run that stretched from the end of third to 6:57 left in the fourth. During that run, Haiby had four points on a couple layups while Markowski and Isabelle Bourne each had two.
Haiby injured her shoulder and left the game with nine minutes left in the fourth and never returned. But instead of fading away, the Husker freshmen—Markwoski, Weidner and even second-year freshman Annika Stewart, who drilled a 3-pointer —started to heat up. They combined to score the final 16 points of the game.
Markowski, who was recently named the Tamika Catchings National Freshman of the Week, poured in nine of those 16 points. The 6-foot-3 forward, who got the third start of her career due to Bella Cravens’ foot injury, had her post moves working and even showed off her range with a top-of-the-arc 3. The Pius X product finished her night with a team-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds. She was 0-for-3 at the free-throw line, however.
Weidner, from Humphrey, Nebraska, went 4-for-4 at the free-throw line in the fourth and was aggressively taking the ball to the hoop, making the Hoosiers defend. The St. Francis High School graduate chipped in with seven points and hauled down five boards. One of her drives helped cause forward Aleksa Gulbe to foul out with a blocking call. Gulbe was a key player for the Hoosiers who had 17 points, four steals and two blocks.
“I thought Indiana did a nice job in the first three quarters of really backing off, sagging off, showing help to Markowski, throwing double teams at her from the players on our team who were not making shots from the perimeter, so that caused a lot of traffic down in there,” Williams said. “But I thought in the fourth quarter, Allison did a nice job of really being able to get to the rim, drawing some attention and getting downhill to create some pace. I thought Alexis worked hard in there to try to get those paint touches, and we were figuring out ways to kind of put people in positions where they couldn’t come and double quite so easy.”
Nebraska ultimately put itself in a hole that proved too deep to climb out of. The Huskers committed 16 turnovers in the loss while making 24 shots from the field. Indiana scored 12 points off those 16 mistakes. At the free-throw line, Nebraska was only 61%, making 11-of-18.
Jaz Shelley had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Haiby finished her night with 10 points and four boards. Bourne, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, struggled to get in a groove as she netted only four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Nebraska will get a rematch with Iowa in Iowa City on Sunday at 5 p.m. The Hawkeyes escaped Lincoln with a 95-86 win last Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.