The three-game stretch of road contests that the Nebraska women currently find themselves on won’t get any easier as they travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the No. 21 Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Ohio State comes into the game with an overall record of 17-4 and a 9-3 mark in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes have been hot lately, winning eight of their last nine games. That stretch included a 95-89 win over No. 15 Maryland and a 92-88 victory over No. 25 Iowa. The Huskers just got back from playing the Terrapins in College Park, Maryland, an 80-65 loss that ended their four-game winning streak and dropped their record to 17-5, 6-5.
The Buckeyes rank in the top-20 nationally in four categories. They’re the best 3-point shooting team in the country, making 40% of their shots behind the arc, and are making 9.1 3s per game, 16th in the country. Taylor Mikesell, a 5-foot-11 guard, is shooting an absurdly good 49% (82-of-167) from 3 and is averaging 19.5 points per game, second on the team. Mikesell is a transfer from Oregon and former teammate of Nebraska’s Jaz Shelley, herself a transfer from the Ducks. Jacy Sheldon is leading the team in scoring at 20.3 and is a 43% (34-of-79) 3-point shooter. Sheldon is also averaging a team-high 3.8 assists.
It’s not surprising that Ohio State ranks third in overall field-goal percentage, too, at 47.3%. The Buckeyes’ offense is scoring 82.1 points per game, which is fifth in the country. Nebraska’s defense ranks 130th in the country, allowing 61.1 points per game. The Huskers’ offense is scoring at a 78.8-point clip, which ranks 11th nationally.
If the Huskers want to leave Columbus with an upset win, they’ll need to do what they always plan to: get paint touches, post touches and post feeds. A tough, long and rangy Maryland defense kept Nebraska from doing that on Sunday. The Huskers don’t want that to be the case Thursday—head coach Amy Williams wants the ball to go inside to the 6-3 Alexis Markowski—the winner of five Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors who’s averaging a team-high 15.7 points against conference teams and shooting 54% from the field, including 60% (12-of-20) from 3—and the 6-2 Isabelle Bourne, who’s scoring 9.2 points per outing against Big Ten defenses.
“I thought we were so consumed with what was happening with the defense right in front of us that we weren’t able to see what we needed and get the presence in the paint that we really wanted and needed in this ball game,” Williams said after the loss to the Terps.
If Markowski and Nebraska’s other posts have success early, that could free up Nebraska’s outside shooting, which ranks 31st in the country at 35.6%. One of the bright spots in the Huskers’ loss at Maryland was the play of Ashley Scoggin. She recorded career-highs in points (20), 3-pointers made (6-of-11) and steals (four). She also did work defensively in the post, even as a 5-7 guard.
Williams noticed that part.
“I thought our kids kept fighting in the second half. I was really proud, particularly of Ashley Scoggin,” Williams said. “Not just the six made 3-pointers obviously, she continued to stay aggressive offensively and we need her to do that and she sparked us there. But it’s the four steals. I just felt like she was more active and moving and fighting. She might find herself on a mismatch down there guarding Mimi Collins (a 6-foot-3 post) in the low block, and she just kept dancing around and fighting and worked for a deflected ball.”
Nebraska likely can’t afford to have another off shooting night from two of its guards it leans on for offense, Shelley and Sam Haiby. Each had trouble finding the bottom of the net at Maryland and combined to go 1-of-16 from the field. Shelley was 0-of-10 and missed all five of her attempts behind the arc.
While Shelley is in the middle of a scoring rut—she’s averaging just 5.4 points in her last five—she’s still a valuable playmaker for the Huskers. The Moe, Australia, native is dishing out 5.2 assist per game against conference foes while being the top rebounder with 8.3 as a 5-9 guard. She also has the most steals and against Big Ten opponents with 20 and 15, respectively.
Thursday’s game will be nationally televised on FS1.