Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Big Ten Gauntlet Continues For Nebraska Against No. 6 Indiana

January 13, 2022

The gauntlet continues.

For the third straight game, the Nebraska women’s basketball team will play a ranked opponent as it travels to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday. The game is slated for a 5 p.m. tip and will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

The Huskers (13-2 overall, 2-2 in Big Ten play) split their last two games against ranked competition with a 21-point victory over then-No. 8 Michigan and a 95-86 loss to then-No. 22 Iowa.

Indiana (12-2, 4-0), which went to its first-ever NCAA Elite Eight last season, is riding a seven-game win streak. Its only losses are to a pair of top-5 ranked teams in No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 North Carolina State. Head coach Teri Moren’s team has a NET ranking of 10—Nebraska’s is one spot behind at 11—and has a very efficient offense. The Hoosiers are fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage, shooting 47.5%.

Nebraska is coming off a loss to the Caitlin Clark-led Hawkeyes. The Huskers traded blows with their neighbors to the east in an entertaining game, but key mistakes defensively helped Iowa regain a lead it once lost and seal the win late in the fourth quarter.

“We did not defend the way we need to defend in order to do that against a high-powered offense like Iowa,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said after the Iowa game. “I thought they really came in and made big shots, big plays.”

Husker guard Jaz Shelley, who’s averaging 13.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, said the team learned a lesson against the Hawkeyes—defense wins games.

“There were a lot of plays like Coach (Williams) said where, we didn’t follow the scout, there were a lot of things that we could have done differently, effort plays,” Shelley said. “If we went back, we definitely would have done something different, like, I let up a back-cut or something. Those things don’t go unnoticed, and that’s two or four points in the game, and it slips away.”

Nebraska’s defense will need to limit its breakdowns against the Hoosiers, who are averaging 72.9 points per game. Mackenzie Holmes is averaging a team-best 17.9 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Hoosiers while also recording a team-high 26 blocks. The 6-foot-3 forward has a 30-point game under her belt, which came in a win over Ohio State, and is shooting 61% from the field.

Isabelle Bourne and Alexis Markowski will likely draw the defensive duties on Holmes if Bella Cravens continues to be sidelined with an injury. Bourne had the challenge of guarding Michigan’s Naz Hillmon, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, and helped to hold her to only 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

“Issie set the tone for our team on one of those first couple possessions when she played Naz’s reverse-face baseline drive, took a charge right there,” Williams said after the win over the Wolverines. “It was just a great defensive anticipation play, and I thought that set the tone. The rest of our team just followed. I thought everybody who was asked to do a job did their job. It’s a great team win.”

Markowski has started in place of Cravens the past two games and done well. The Lincoln Pius X product was just awarded her third freshman-of-the-week honor from the Big Ten Conference. On Tuesday, it was announced that Markowski was named the Tamika Catchings National Freshman of the Week by the United States Basketball Writers Association. In her two games as a starter, Markowski averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting an efficient 68% (13-of-19) from the field. On the season, the 6-3 forward is averaging 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

The Huskers also need to be aware of the trio of Hoosier guards in Grace Berger, Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary. Berger is averaging 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds while Patberg is pouring in 12.6 points and 3.2 boards. Cardaño-Hillary, who hails from Spain, is the top 3-point shooter on the team at 41% (23-of-56). Her shot-making ability hasn’t translated to free throws yet as she’s 59% (19-of-32) from the line. Indiana doesn’t take many shots behind the arc—the Hoosiers are tied with Michigan for 12th in the conference in average made 3s per game with 4.7.

Indiana has a top-50 defense which is allowing an average of 56.5 points per game. Nebraska guard Sam Haiby has scored double figures in nine straight Big Ten games dating back to last season. The Moorhead, Minnesota, native is the leading scorer for the Huskers against conference foes this season at 15 points per game and netted 19 in the loss to Michigan State and 18 against Iowa.

Haiby will likely want a bit of revenge against the Hoosiers considering how her game against them last season went. She scored just six points on 2-of-15 shooting in the Huskers’ 81-45 blowout loss at Indiana.

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