Nebraska women’s basketball pulled off a season sweep of Michigan on Tuesday, winning 65-59 on the road.
It was an important performance for the Huskers, given they were coming off a home loss to a bad Rutgers team. They never led in the first half, but took control after the break to win. Starting guard Darian White missed the game with injury, but the visitors still came out victorious.
Here are three takeaways from the contest:
An All-Around Bounceback
In just about every way, Nebraska turned things around from its game against Rutgers.
After allowing the Scarlet Knights to shoot almost 60% from the field, Michigan put up a percentage of 38.7% while also turning it over 15 times. Some of this can be attributed to one team just having a better shooting game, but the defensive effort from the Huskers was often impressive.
Maddie Krull came up with three consecutive steals early in the third quarter. Michigan leading scorer Laila Phelia was held scoreless on four shot attempts in the final period. Jaz Shelley made a number of plays defensively, and Alexis Markowski helped hold off the Wolverines inside down the stretch.
Speaking of the team’s two stars, Shelley and Markowski combined to shoot 7-for-27 against Rutgers. That was a season-low for the latter. This game, Markowski shot a season-best 8-for-11, as the pair both finished in double figures on 50% shooting or better for just the third time this year.
Shelley put up 10 points on eight shots and contributed in all her usual ways. She made a number of great passes for key assists and played a major role in late-game stops on the defensive end.
Markowski’s 18 points and nine rebounds led the team. Through the fourth quarter, she found herself frustrated as Michigan battled in the paint for boards and a few loose balls were called out of bounds off of her.
“They were being very, very physical with her down in the paint on the other end and she’s trying, you know, to wrestle around in there, getting beat up a little bit,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame on Huskers Radio Network.
The junior center ended up managing five rebounds in the final period alone. Two of the most important came on the offensive end at the free-throw line. Minutes into the fourth, Shelley couldn’t finish off an and-one opportunity at the stripe, but Markowski was there to tip the ball back up and in. That gave the Huskers a 52-50 lead, and they never lost the advantage from there.
With 13 seconds left and Nebraska up five, Krull missed the second of two free throws. Of course, Markowski came down with the ball, and while she said postgame that she was tempted to take the layup, she passed it out and the team milked about five more seconds off the clock.
Not everything was perfect — the Huskers had eight points in the first quarter and 10 turnovers in the opening half — but it was an impressive showing for a team in need of it. They’ve remained projected as an NCAA Tournament team, but would surely like to build up that case as much as they can through the rest of the year.
Freshmen Trio Key
Nebraska’s three freshmen continued to shine, combining for 25 points in the game.
Natalie Potts, the only starter among them, got going early and scored 12 points through three quarters. Five consecutive points from her in the third quarter put Nebraska up three temporarily. The conference’s freshman of the year frontrunner has had her struggles, with efficiency numbers dropping and some key defensive lapses, but remains a difference-maker.
Jessica Petrie and Logan Nissley also made key plays. The former converted an and-one to give the Huskers the lead entering the fourth quarter, and scored again when Markowski took a breather within that final period. The latter hit a three right before halftime to make it a one-point game, and drew a foul on an attempt from three in the third quarter.
In the team’s biggest wins this year, they’ve all been able to provide a spark in their roles. That’s going to have to continue for Nebraska to keep finding success.
Top-Five Teams Approach
This win was also important because of what is directly ahead.
Nebraska’s next game is a nationally televised sellout at home on Super Bowl Sunday. The contest is sure to have plenty of eyes on it, as No. 2 Iowa and Caitlin Clark come to town. Barring the superstar guard returning for a fifth year, it’ll be the last time Clark plays in Lincoln. She’s also likely to be within reasonable range of the NCAA women’s basketball career scoring record currently held by Kelsey Plum.
The Hawkeyes have been selling out every road arena they play in. It’s a big test on a big stage for Nebraska, and it hopes to pull the massive upset.
There won’t be much time for relaxation after that, either. On Valentine’s Day, the Huskers travel to play No. 5 Ohio State, the only Big Ten team to beat Iowa so far this season.
These aren’t must-win games by any means for Nebraska, but even competitive showings could be valuable before the team goes into the last few matchups of the regular season. It’ll be worth watching the availability of starting fifth-year guard Darian White, who was out against Michigan with a lower leg injury that isn’t expected to be a long-term ailment.
Nebraska has six games left before the Big Ten Tournament, and a strong end to the year is necessary. A massive upset would make things even better for the program.