Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Rutgers Poses A’ Little Different’ Challenge For Huskers, Who Look To End Three-Game Losing Skid

January 19, 2022

Update: Per a media release from Nebraska, the Huskers’ road game at Illinois set for this Sunday is postponed due to health and safety protocols within the NU program. Per the amended Big Ten Conference 2021-22 Forfeiture Guidelines, this game will be postponed and the Conference office will coordinate the rescheduling process. If the game is not able to be rescheduled, it would count as a “no contest” for both teams. Nebraska’s home game against Rutgers, which was supposed to be played Thursday, was also postponed.

The Nebraska women’s basketball team will be looking to snap its current three-game losing streak as it hosts the Rutgers Scarlet Knights this Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Rutgers comes into the game with a 7-12 overall record and is the only Big Ten team winless in conference play at 0-7. The Scarlet Knights are coming to Lincoln after losing at home to Wisconsin, 49-45, on Sunday. Nebraska (13-4, 2-4 in Big Ten) and Rutgers have played two common opponents in Minnesota and No. 8 Michigan, both wins for the Huskers. The Scarlet Knights lost their games against the Gophers, 62-49, and the Wolverines, 76-47.

Though Nebraska are not ranked in the AP Poll and is going through a rough stretch against some of the best teams in the country, the Huskers still had a NET ranking of 12th to start this week. The NET ranking is an evaluation tool used by the NCAA to determine the NCAA tournament field and seedings, which is much more important than the AP Poll, which has little to do with postseason play.

“That’s what we’re really going to keep focusing on. And really for us, it’s, ‘Are we becoming a better team every time that we get a chance to be out,'” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said on ‘Sports Nightly’ on Tuesday. “While it’s a little bit hard sometimes with the adversity that’s been thrown our way, we feel like, in the grand scheme of things, in the long run, this is really going to benefit our team. It’s just giving us really valuable experience and valuable growth that we’re going to need at some point later as we start pursuing into postseason play.

“So we’re excited for that, and we’re going to keep controlling what we can control and focusing on what we can focus on, and that’s every day just getting better and trying to improve.”

Nebraska may be without two of its starting guards in Sam Haiby and Jaz Shelley, who didn’t play in last Sunday’s loss to Iowa in Iowa City. Haiby was injured in the fourth quarter last Thursday at Indiana and finished the contest on the bench with a shoulder wrapped in ice. Shelley entered health and safety protocols and didn’t make the trip to Iowa City.

“Sam right now is just kind of day-to-day,” Williams said on ‘Sports Nightly.’ “So every day we’re evaluating the process and we’re going to have to take it day-by-day unfortunately with that shoulder. Jaz is just right kind of in the midst of health protocols, so that’s also to-be-determined, but based on how the steps through the protocol goes.”

If Haiby and Shelley can’t play, the Huskers will continue to lean on three freshmen, including Alexis Markowski, Allison Weidner and Ruby Porter, who all started in Sunday’s game at Iowa.

Markowski has enjoyed an excellent start to her young career. The 6-foot-3 forward has won the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week honor a whopping four times already, and was even named the Tamika Catchings National Freshman of the Week by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Markowski, who has started the last four games for the injured Bella Cravens, is scoring a team-high 15.5 points per game and shooting 60% (35-of-58) in conference play. The Lincoln Pius X graduate is coming off a career-high 27 points against the Hawkeyes in a game where she showed off her range by going 6-of-7 from 3-point land.

With Haiby and Shelley out against Iowa, that meant Weidner and Porter were inserted into the starting lineup. Weidner poured in eight points and five assists, which was her most since dishing out eight against North Carolina Central on Nov. 20. Weidner, who’s from Humphrey, Neb., is averaging 5.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in her first college season.

Though Porter was making her first start of the season at Iowa, it wasn’t her first start of her college career. The Australian guard started 11 games last year, her first on campus, and battled injuries that caused her to miss some games. Porter scored five points and had two assists against the Hawkeyes.

Sunday’s game will feature Nebraska’s high-scoring offense against Rutgers’ stingy defense, which is top-50 nationally. The Huskers are averaging 81.4 points per game, which is tied for eighth-best in the country. The Scarlet Knights, on the other hand, struggle to score as they are averaging just 55.9 points, 313th in the country. Rutgers will want to slow the game down, limit possessions for the Huskers and lean on its defense that is holding opponents to 57.1 points, which ranked 47th in the country.

Williams said that Rutgers is a very physical and fast team.

“They’ll throw several different defenses at you, including a lot of full-court pressure and some man-to-man, where they switch every screen and won’t be afraid to put their five switched off onto your guards, and their guards to be aggressive guarding your bigs,” Williams said. “They are just a little different than anything that we’ve seen up to this point this year. Because of that, we need to really lock in on our preparation over the next 48 hours or so and be ready to handle that physicality, the changing defenses, the pressure and do it with poise and taking care of the basketball.”

Rutgers’ lineup has been a revolving door this season. Only one player, Osh Brown, has started all 19 games this season. Brown, a 6-1 transfer from Ball State, is averaging a team-high 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. She has six double-doubles this season and her performance in a loss to Northwestern—22 points and 16 boards—may have been her best of the season.

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