Nebraska women’s basketball’s comeback attempt fell short on Saturday, as the Huskers lost at home to the Big Ten’s last-place team.
After being tied at halftime, Rutgers scored the first six points of the third quarter and ended the period on a 10-3 run to take an 11-point lead into the final period of play. Nebraska battled back, but missed several potential tying and go-ahead attempts down the stretch to lose.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Husker Stars Struggle
Nebraska’s final two shot attempts were representative of how the game went for the team on the offensive end.
With nine seconds left and the Huskers down a point, Callin Hake inbounded to Jaz Shelley and ran by her to receive a handoff. Shelley faked the handoff, and found herself wide open as both Rutgers defenders followed Hake. It was an open attempt for the star who takes most of her shots from three. However, she missed it, running up to get her own rebound before it bounced off the back of the rim and over her head.
After two missed free throws and a full-court Husker pass tipped out of bounds by Rutgers, Nebraska had a shot at a quick game-winning attempt with 0.7 seconds left. The setup once again went well, as Shelley threw an inbounds lob that found the hands of Markowski at the rim. She put it up midair through light contact, but it bounced off the rim to seal the loss.
Shelley and Markowski, the team’s best players, combined to shoot 7-for-27 in the game, with the latter taking and making one more shot than the former. Nebraska’s junior center missed numerous easy layups, while the fifth-year guard shot some ill-advised threes and got stuffed on a drive to the rim early in the third quarter.
Postgame, head coach Amy Williams understandably said she was happy with the looks the team got. Darian White missed a layup falling away from the basket with nine seconds left as well. The Shelley three wasn’t planned — it was likely for Markowski to receive a pass from Shelley in the paint — but the coach didn’t mind her veteran guard taking the open shot from long range.
“I thought the execution was good,” Williams said. “And you make any one of those three baskets and it could potentially change the game.”
Those two weren’t the only ones struggling offensively, as the team shot 33.8% from the field and 26.9% from deep. But the team’s top two scorers put out inefficient showings, and didn’t come through in the biggest moments of the game.
Defense Struggles Overall
Nebraska’s defense against Rutgers made a lot of key plays, but also was a key reason the team lost the game.
The Huskers forced 23 turnovers, scoring over a third (25) of their 70 points off them. It was a major force in the fourth-quarter comeback attempt, as three Rutgers giveaways early in the period led to two breakaway layups and a transition three from Logan Nissley.
When the Scarlet Knights weren’t traveling, stepping out of bounds or losing the ball through other methods, their offense often shredded the Huskers. Rutgers shot 59.6% from the field and hit seven of its 15 3-point attempts. Six of its eight players shot 50% or better, with Jillian Huerter’s 3-for-10 game being the only real inefficient performance. Kassondra Brown led the way with 21 points off the bench.
This wasn’t only a matter of having a good shooting day, either. Rutgers often got inside for easy layups and Brown was left open for a number of jumpers. Even some of Huerter’s misses were heaves off of errant passes thrown out to her late in the shot clock, essentially turnover-worthy possessions.
Williams felt there was a lack of focus and effort on that end, and credited Rutgers for making some big shots.
Big Picture Outlook
Nebraska entered the day as a team solidly in NCAA Tournament projections, with a top-30 NET rank, no bad losses and a few strong wins.
This result completely changes things. Rutgers entered on a 12-game losing streak, sitting at 0-10 in Big Ten play and 6-17 overall. Nebraska’s worst losses were previously at NET No. 46 Kansas, at No. 39 Minnesota and against No. 40 TCU at a neutral site. Now, the Huskers have dropped a home game to a team sitting at No. 161.
It’ll be worth watching how much the Huskers drop in rankings and projections, but they likely sit on the wrong side of the bubble. The only thing that could give Nebraska back a sense of comfort would be a top-10 win over Iowa or Ohio State. Otherwise, they’ll likely need to finish the regular season winning every game besides those two. Those five contests include road games against Michigan and Illinois, along with a home meeting against Minnesota. The easier matchups come on the road against Purdue and at home against Northwestern.
A 5-2 finish is easy to doubt for a team that was defined by inconsistency last season and looks to shake that label. The road ahead isn’t impossible, especially as the middle of the Big Ten has had its struggles, but Nebraska might need to show it before many believe in it.
The Huskers should still aim to finish top-five in the league. That’ll mean avoiding more games like these.