Throughout the season, several different players have stepped up to help Nebraska keep its record undefeated. On Wednesday, it was Annika Stewart’s turn.
The 6-foot-3 second-year freshman came into the Huskers’ final non-conference game of the season against Wyoming averaging 5.9 points off the bench. When the contest was over and Nebraska officially secured a 72-61 win over the Cowgirls to improve to 12-0, Stewart had a new career-high in scoring with 21 points—in 15 minutes—and blocks with three.
“Her ability to pick-and-pop and pull their post defender out to try to play perimeter defense was something that was really working for us,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said after the game.
— Nebraska WBB (@HuskersWBB) December 22, 2021
Stewart said she always tries to do what’s best for the team in each game. On Wednesday, that meant she wanted to take advantage of how Wyoming’s defense was playing her—by sagging off closer to the paint, which left her open from behind the arc.
“What’s great about this team is we have so much depth, and really anybody can step up to the plate no matter what game,” Stewart said.
Williams and her teammates aren’t shocked by Stewart’s 21-point outburst. They see the shot-making ability every day at practice. But what Williams really loved from her performance was the effort on the other end of the court—the three blocks and one steal while only committing two fouls.
“The thing I was most impressed with for Anni was the improvements she made on the defensive side of the ball, and we talked about some specific corrections between the first half and the second half, and I thought she did a great job with that,” Williams said. “That’s an area she’s been working really hard at, so to watch her really contribute to our team on both sides of the ball was fun to see and something she’s capable of.”
Jaz Shelley was being her usual play-making self against Wyoming. The Oregon transfer was about halfway to a triple-double after the first half as she had seven points, seven assists and five rebounds. She ended with a double-double of 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Nebraska went on a 10-2 run midway through the second quarter that gave it a 35-26 lead. Isabelle Bourne connected on a 3 and a layup while Sam Haiby drilled a triple, too. Bourne finished with 13 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting while Haiby added nine points and four boards.
With Big Ten Freshman of the Week Alexis Markowski having a bit of an off night offensively—the Lincoln Pius X grad finished with three points on 1-of-8 shooting—Stewart got more playing time and was able to provide energy and scoring off the bench. The Minnesota native had already surpassed her season average at halftime with nine points while giving her team another outside shooting option—she was 2-of-4 from 3-point range and finished 8-of-13 overall from the field and 3-of-7 from 3.
The Huskers pushed their halftime lead to 11 points, 42-31, and ended the second quarter on a 17-7 run. Nebraska had things rolling from behind the 3-point arc as it was 7-of-14 in the first two quarters—five different players connected from deep during that stretch. The Huskers ended 9-of-25 for 36%.
Nebraska controlled the start of the second half by holding Wyoming to just eight points in the third. Stewart really heated up in that third quarter—she scored 10 of her 21 points during that stretch.
“There’s a lot of unselfishness,” Bourne said. “People are willing to give it up—whoever’s hot that game, we’re getting them the ball. I think anyone can step up and we know that as a team, so that makes us so much better.”
Wyoming eventually cut its deficit to nine points, 68-59, with 2 minutes remaining in the game, but an old-fashioned 3-point play from Haiby and a free throw from Bourne after getting hacked helped slow the Cowgirl momentum and seal the win.
Nebraska now gets ready for Big Ten play and will travel to Michigan State (7-6) on Thursday, Dec. 30 for a 1 p.m. CT game. The Spartans are 1-4 in their last five games with losses to Notre Dame, Iowa, Florida Gulf Coast and West Virginia.
“We’ve been off to just a great start and we’re very excited about it,” Williams said. “I think the most exciting thing is it’s been fun and we’ve seen a lot of great things. But we know there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and that’s something that’s really exciting.”
Wyoming senior guard and Omaha Westside alum, Quinn Weidemann, was back in her home state. She scored six points with six rebounds and two assists as the Cowgirls dropped to 4-5 on the season.