After Saturday’s events in the Nebraska women’s basketball program—the suspension of assistant coach Chuck Love and the removal of starting guard Ashley Scoggin from the roster—it was fair for those on the outside to wonder how the team would look as it hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers inside Pinnacle Bank Arena one day later on Sunday.
There was little evidence of distraction. In the first quarter, the Huskers shot 53% from the field, 5-of-5 at the free-throw line and led the Gophers 23-16 heading into the second. The strong start eventually turned into a 93-70 win for Nebraska powered by a career-high 23 points from Allison Weidner and a season-high 12 assists from Jaz Shelley. It was a much-needed bounce-back after last Thursday’s disastrous loss to Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State.
Following the game, head coach Amy Williams took to the postgame press conference with a couple veteran leaders next to her in Sam Haiby and Isabelle Bourne.
“I’m incredibly proud of our staff and players and the way we came together,” Williams said. “It’s been a challenging few days, but for our team to really come together and stay together and persevere and go out there and really compete and have a tough-fought win today, I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
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When asked who made the decision to take Scoggin off the team, Williams said that wasn’t a topic she was going to answer at that moment.
“I think it’s something that, there’s lots of people who have been involved, and we’re just going to keep it at that,” she said.
Williams was then asked if Scoggin was supported by Nebraska’s athletic department.
“Yes, Ashley is still supported by our athletic department,” the coach responded.
Could the off-the-court developments potentially impact the Huskers on the recruiting trail? Williams said no.
“I think our program is going to continue moving forward,” Williams said, “and we have a lot of positive things to be proud of as a group, and we’re going to continue to build for the future.”
With Scoggin now out of the picture, Weidner made her third start of her career on Sunday in front of an announced attendance of 6,566 fans. It was an efficient outing for the freshman from Humphrey St. Francis High School, a small Class D-2 school in northeast Nebraska. The 5-foot-10 guard went 8-of-10 from the floor and didn’t record a single turnover. Her perimeter shot, something that she’s said is a work in progress at the beginning of the season, was even falling, too—she was 3-of-3 from 3-point range, a career-high.
Four of the five Husker starters scored double-figures as Bourne added 17 points while Alexis Markowski chipped in with 15 and nine rebounds. Haiby, a Moorhead, Minnesota, native who scored 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter of the Huskers’ win over the Gophers in Minneapolis last December, stuffed the stat sheet again against her hometown program with 14 points, six boards and five assists.
Haiby said that, despite the distractions that have fallen on the program in the last 48 hours, the team’s chemistry is still strong. She even used a song that her coach likes to talk about at practice when adversity hits: “Can You Stand The Rain.”
“Coach always says, her favorite song ‘Can You Stand The Rain,’ and this is definitely a storm for us,” Haiby said. “I think it’s really important for us to stay together. We’ve talked as a team, we’ve met as players and stuff. It’s really important to come together, and like coach said, lean on each other because we still have huge goals we want to accomplish.”
Said Bourne: “It’s important for us to come together and stay together, and I think we’ve done that throughout this game and showed that we’re a strong team and we can stand the rain.”
Nebraska shot 54% (33-of-66) from the field in the win and out-rebounded Minnesota 39-28. The Huskers held a 19-4 edge in fast-break points.
Mi’Cole Cayton gave her team solid minutes off the bench with two 3s in the final two minutes before halftime, helping Nebraska take a 41-34 lead at halftime. She was an example of a player going above and beyond what’s expected, which Williams said needs to happen with the Huskers want a deep run in the Big Ten tournament.
Add Kendall Moriarty’s five points in the third quarter to that, too. The 6-1 second-year guard from Illinois grabbed a steal and converted a coast-to-coast layup to give her team a 66-47 lead. Under a minute later, she hauled in Shelley’s 12th assist of the day by drilled a 3.
“I think our whole team knows that, this time of year, we need people to step up and rise to the level,” Williams said. “We’re trying to press forward to be playing our best basketball for these last couple regular-season games and heading into the conference tournament, where we want to go down there and be cutting down nets and winning championships.
“In order to do that, we’re going to need people to rise to the occasion, people like Mi’Cole Cayton to come in and spark our team with her opportunities, and players like Allison Weidner to be stepping up and pressing forward, and watching her gain confidence and really shoot it well from behind the arc in addition to what she’s been doing well getting to the basket.”
Nebraska came out of halftime and made an effort to go inside to Markowski in the second half, and it paid off. Markowski, who scored just four points in the first two quarters, sank back-to-back and-1 buckets early in the third, the latter of which gave Big Red its largest lead of the game at 19 points, 56-37, with a little under six minutes left in the quarter.
That was just one component of a third quarter that saw Nebraska outscore Minnesota 30-13 to grab a 71-49 edge heading into the fourth.
Up next for the Huskers (20-7 overall, 9-7 in Big Ten play) is a Wednesday game at Wisconsin (7-19, 4-12), which is coming off a 59-42 loss to No. 18 Ohio State. Nebraska beat the Badgers 77-44 at PBA on Jan. 27. The tipoff for that game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.