Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Taking The Show To San Diego: Previewing Nebraska’s Holiday Basketball Tournament

November 25, 2021

With a 5-0 record that includes a gritty win over in-state rival Creighton that snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bluejays, the Nebraska women’s basketball team takes to the road for the first time this season.

Nebraska will play in The Dana on Mission Bay Holiday Tournament this Friday and Saturday in San Diego along with Drexel (3-1), host San Diego (3-1) and Fresno State (2-1). The Huskers open the four-team tournament with Drexel on Friday at 6 p.m. central time. There will be free live video available at huskers.com.

Head coach Amy Williams’ team is coming off a 113-58 win over North Carolina Central from last Saturday. Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley notched her first-career triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in just 20 minutes. The Australian sharpshooter was 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the win. Nebraska got the victory despite being without one of its best players and leaders in All-Big Ten guard Sam Haiby, who sat out with a minor lower leg injury.

Through five games, Nebraska is leading the nation in average scoring at 95.6 and has topped 100 points in three contests, which is the first time that’s happened in Husker history. Fresno State will come in averaging 74.3 points while San Diego is at 63.75 and Drexel 62.25.

Williams has enjoyed the scoring balance that her team has had. Three players are averaging double-digit scoring, including Isabelle Bourne (14.2), Shelley (11.2) and Ashley Scoggin (11.0). Two others, Haiby and freshman Alexis Markowski, are scoring 9.8 and 9.6 points per game, respectively.

It’s that balance that has helped led to a nation-leading 45.6-point scoring margin.

“I think that there’s a little indication that I feel like there’s more balance and contributions and more people kind of stepping to the plate,” Williams said. “I look more at the 10 different players on our roster who have scored double figures so far this year already and those types of things as a better indicator for us than true scoring margin.”

With the five-game home stretch now over, Williams wants to see her team take a step forward in San Diego. What is that next step? Crashing the boards.

Nebraska is currently outrebounding its opponents by an average of 50.4-34. Shelley, a strong guard at 5-foot-9, is leading the Huskers with 8.6 boards per game. Shelley and the physical 6-3 Markowski are hauling down 2.2 offensive rebounds per game, too.

“I think the girls have kind of identified that they want to strive toward being the best rebounding team in our league, and we’re nowhere near that right now,” Williams said. “So if we could take steps forward against some really experienced and veteran ball clubs out in San Diego, I think that will ensure that we’re continuing to improve.”

A nice surprise

The contributions of a couple true freshmen in Markowski and Allison Weidner have impressed Williams and her staff. Markowski, a Lincoln Pius X product, is averaging 15.2 minutes off the bench while the Humphrey St. Francis grad Weidner is averaging 16.2.

The 5-10 Weidner has come off the bench and given Williams solid minutes at point guard. She’s scored eight or more points in three of the five games and is coming off an eight-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist outing against North Carolina Central.

Markowski came up big in a physical contest against Creighton with 11 points, four rebounds and one block. The former Nebraska Gatorade State High School Girls Basketball Player of the Year is also making 80% (20-of-25) of her free throws.

“Over the first five ball games, I do think that we’ve had some new players, some freshmen, who have really kind of stepped up and shined and brought up sparks and things that, you know, you’re not 100% sure if you’re expecting that in game minutes early in the season, and I think they’ve been learning,” Williams said. “You can almost see every single game that they’re getting opportunities to really play significant game minutes, the growth and the learning and the advancement, so I think that’s the part that has really maybe been a little surprising for our staff.”

Pushing the pace

Nebraska has played at a fast up-and-down-the-court pace this season, and Haiby has usually been the crucial piece to that in the past. But while Haiby has been nursing a minor injury, others like Shelley and Weidner have shown they can help fill that role.

“It starts with pushing tempo,” Williams said, “and we’ve always known that a player like Sam Haiby can push pace and be special in transition, and Sam’s been kind of in and out a little bit here in our first five ball games. But I really think with Jaz Shelley and Allison Weidner coming in, they both just really aggressively kind of hunt in transition that paint, which creates a lot of offense or our team and gives us more possessions and allows us to play at that pace that’s producing higher points.”

Brugler and Nihill lead Drexel

Drexel, Nebraska’s opening opponent of the tournament, is located in Philadelphia and won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title last season. The conference championship gave the Dragons an automatic NCAA tournament berth—they didn’t last long in the Big Dance, however, as they lost their first-round game to Georgia.

Drexel’s top two players are 6-1 forward Tessa Brugler and 5-3 guard Hannah Nihill. Brugler is a fifth-year player who is averaging a team-high 16 points, 9.8 rebounds and has 10 blocks. In four games, Brugler has three double-doubles. Nihill is averaging 12 points and 5.5. assists.

A Williams noted, the Dragons have an experienced roster that includes three graduates and two seniors in their starting lineup.

“We’re going to be playing teams in San Diego that have three super-seniors, fifth-year starters, and then two other seniors, fourth-year players—just really experienced basketball teams,” Williams said, “so we’re expecting a much tougher challenge. And just going on the road presents its own challenges. I think we’ll learn about ourselves over the next few days and we’re really looking forward to it.”

A little Husker flavor to the Toreros

The San Diego Toreros are coached by former Nebraska women’s basketball assistant Cindy Fisher. Four Toreros average eight or more points. The team is led by 5-8 guard Jordyn Edwards, who is averaging a team-high 10.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. Erica Martinsen, a 5-9 guard, is hitting 40% (8-of-20) of her 3s this season, best on the team.

Watch the Cavinder twins

The Fresno State Bulldogs are led by the Cavinder twins, Haley and Hannah. Haley, a 5-6 guard, is averaging a double-double with 18.3 points and 10 rebounds while dishing out eight assists per game. She has 25- and 21-point outings so far this season and is shooting 58% (10-of-17) from 3-point range. Hannah, also a 5-6 guard, is averaging 15.3 points and 5.7 boards per game.

The Bulldogs also have the 6-foot Amiee Brook, a big who’s averaging 11 points and can stretch the floor as a 47% (9-of-19) 3-point shooter.

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