Photo Credit: John S .Peterson

Trio of Young Huskers Showing Major Improvement Early

December 13, 2022

Among the younger players on Nebraska women’s basketball’s roster, Alexis Markowski might be the one that stands out. 

That’s for good reason. The center started for most of the season last year as a freshman in a lineup where most starters had at least three seasons of experience. She was the team’s second-leading scorer and won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. 

However, another trio of last season’s freshmen — Allison Weidner, Annika Stewart and Kendall Moriarty — have made their own marks early in the 2022-23 campaign. Two of those three are true sophomores, while Stewart is entering her third year. 

With roster changes and injuries, Weidner, Stewart and Moriarty have had to take on larger roles and have delivered on that expanded opportunity. Through 11 games this season, they’re each averaging at least three more points, two more rebounds and shooting better from beyond the arc than they did last season.

Weidner is the most prominent of that trio, the only one to play more than 10 minutes per game in 2021-22. She averaged 19.1 minutes, entering the starting lineup for the final stretch of the season as well after Ashley Scoggin’s dismissal from the team. 

Going into this season, Weidner became even more of a focal point with fellow starting guard Sam Haiby out due to injury. She’s averaging 24.7 minutes per game (27.1 if you exclude her one minute played against Tarleton before exiting with injury), has acted as one of the team’s primary ballhandlers and has used that opportunity to make the most pronounced improvement of any player on the team so far this season.

Her points per game have jumped up from 7.2 to 10.5. She shot 45.9% last season and 27.9% from three, but currently has marks of 56.3% from the field and 40% from long range. Weidner’s free throw percentage has dipped early on, but she’s getting to the line more, leading the team with over three free throw attempts per game.

Those trips to the line have been a result of her aggressiveness. Weidner is arguably the most consistent among the team’s guards when it comes to driving to the rim. That assertiveness also applies when it comes to rebounding. She’s averaging 6.4 boards per game, with nearly a third of that production coming on the offensive glass. Weidner’s recorded two double-doubles this season, both coming in the last three games.

“She just really wants to find a way to contribute for our team and she’s starting to learn that you know, doesn’t have to always be by putting the ball in the basket,” head coach Amy Williams said after Weidner’s 13-point, 15-rebound performance against Maryland. “She’s such an explosive athlete that she can really track down and chase down rebounds and be aggressive.”

Weidner’s most recent double-double came against Samford. Her seven points and three steals in the third quarter alone helped spark the Huskers to pull away after a poor first half.

In that matchup, she also started alongside Stewart. Stewart started the year as the team’s only true forward off the bench, with Bella Cravens having transferred and Maggie Mendelson playing on the Husker volleyball team for the first month of the season.

However, she’s started the last two games as Isabelle Bourne has been out due to injury. Stewart has filled in serviceably in those two spots, but her biggest moments have come off the bench.

In the first game of the Puerto Rico Clasico, the forward scored a career-high 23-points in a blowout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. She had a 10-point second quarter in an eventual loss to No. 9 Virginia Tech. Against Maryland, her six points included an and-one to help the team pull away.

Stewart is averaging 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this year, the highest marks of her career. She’s also shooting 90.9% from the free throw line, although on just one attempt per game.

Moriarty is also having her most successful year after only averaging 1.5 points off the bench last season. In 18.5 minutes per game, she’s averaged 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds.

The 6-foot-1 guard’s impact has come in spurts, but it’s largely been in major moments. In a low-scoring contest against Mississippi State, Moriarty hit two threes early in the fourth quarter to keep the Huskers in front. Nebraska closed the first half against Wisconsin on an 8-0 run that brought the lead back to double-digits, and Moriarty hit a three and assisted on another in that stretch.

She set her career-high with nine points against the Badgers, then broke it with 11 points against Samford. All of those points came in the last 12 minutes of the game, helping the team pull away.

“(Moriarty’s) worked really really hard this offseason to become a better perimeter shooter and more consistent 3-point threat and to see that paying off in big moments is really rewarding for me as a head coach and I’m sure rewarding for her, knowing how much time she’s put into that,” Williams said after the win over Samford.

The three 3-pointers she hit against the Bulldogs matched how many shots she made from deep in her first season. Her shooting percentage from deep sits at 39.1%, up from 16.7% last year.

As the year goes on, Nebraska will have players return from injury and add Maggie Mendelson to the rotation now that the volleyball season has concluded. That will mean that the minutes of players like Stewart and Moriarty in particular could be cut down to some degree. They’ll surely remain in the rotation though, and will look to keep making big impacts in the meantime.

“They all have put the work in the offseason and they’re shooting before practice and so they’ve worked for it,” Markowski said of the group. “We all have confidence in them and the coaches do, and they’re getting a chance to prove themselves, which is really fun to see because they work so hard.”

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