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Oregon State, Raegan Beers Stand in Way of Nebraska’s Sweet 16 Hopes

by Mar 24, 2024Nebraska Womens Basketball

Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Amy Williams during a game against against the Michigan State Spartans at the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN March 8th 2024. Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska women’s basketball has accomplished some difficult things already this postseason.

First of all, the Huskers won a game in the NCAA Tournament, something the program hadn’t done in a decade. Even as a No. 6 seed, that’s a challenge. Louisville was upset by No. 11 seed Middle Tennessee. Syracuse trailed for much of its game against Arizona before squeaking out a win. Tennessee was the only team to avoid drama on the seed line, beating Green Bay by 29. 

Nebraska also won after losing a 17-point advantage. Aicha Coulibaly torched the Huskers in the second half for 26 points, giving Texas A&M a lead with a late putback and-one. 

Still, true freshman Logan Nissley hit clutch free throws and the Huskers got the stops necessary for the win.

When we lost that 17-point lead and went down by a point, lots of teams would cave in that moment,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “But our kids stayed locked in and focused.”

Getting over the hump is its own unique battle. Nebraska’s impressive Big Ten tourney run started with an ugly victory over Purdue. There’s reason to think the Huskers can replicate that here and come out strong in the next game.

The challenge in the NCAA bracket, however, is that the opponent quality often jumps from good to elite when you advance to the round of 32. No. 3 seed Oregon State, the host of this subregion, certainly fits that elite description. Williams had praise for Beaver coach Scott Rueck.

They don’t beat themselves. Their team just does not beat themselves,” she said Saturday. “They really play smart basketball and play to their strengths. I think that’s a special and unique talent for a coach to be able to consistently be able to do that.”

She added that Rueck recruits the same type of players that Nebraska does, and you can tell those similarities by looking at the rosters and stats. Both squads feature a star center surrounded by a lot of guards who can shoot it. Rueck recruited Jaz Shelley before she decided on Oregon. Along with that, Oregon State’s Kelsey Rees and Nebraska’s Jessica Petrie are both Australian post players coming off the bench.   

The matchup between those aforementioned star centers will be crucial. Sophomore Raegan Beers is an all-american, averaging a double-double and shooting 66% from the field. Shelley described her as “insane.”

[Beers] always makes really good reads,” she said. “She is super efficient and uses her body really well and has really good timing. She also sets really good ball screens. We talked about if you set a good ball screen, normally most of the time you get the shot off of it, so she’s really good at that as well.”

Alexis Markowski will have her hands full on both ends. How the Husker post does offensively is specifically of interest. Many teams are forced to bring doubles against her, opening up passes to shooters on the perimeter or a player cutting to the basket. Rueck would like to avoid that as much as his team can.

“When you have a great defensive center, you don’t need to double, and I think threes come a lot of time from being compromised in other ways defensively,” he said Saturday. “That will be interesting tomorrow to see how our ability to slow Markowski down, will we be able to one-on-one? Will we need to send two?”

Oregon State is incredibly solid defensively. The Beavers block shots and don’t foul, holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 39.6% — good for fourth in the nation. They’re great at limiting offensive rebounds, too.  

On the offensive end, they’re 15th in the nation in effective field goal percentage. They don’t get to the free-throw line often or shoot it great from there, but are impressive otherwise. 

In short, there aren’t many weaknesses for the Huskers to attack. Markowski will look to slow down Beers while staying out of foul trouble, and the team needs to be sharp on both ends. This is also a home game for the Beavers, who have only lost to Stanford and USC in Gill Coliseum this year. 

Playing Iowa three times this year, the Huskers are no stranger to hostile crowds. They’re ready for the opportunity to battle with a Sweet 16 spot on the line. 

“I love playing in front of a huge crowd even if they’re rooting against you,” Markowski said. “It’s fun. I feel like that’s what March is all about, just having fun and having people watch and really enjoy watching college women’s basketball.” 

Other Notes:

>> The first round of the tournament featured a historic lack of upsets. No. 11 Middle Tennessee was the only lower seed to win, taking down No. 6 Louisville. 

Plenty of teams came close, such as Texas A&M and No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast. No. 7 Iowa State roared back from a 20-point deficit to beat Maryland. It was definitely not a first round without drama. 

The top teams in this tournament — particularly those ranked as a No. 3 seed or higher — will be tough to take down in the round of 32. Of course, two No. 1 seeds fell last year before the Sweet 16. The action on Sunday and Monday will be entertaining. 

>> Four freshmen led their teams in scoring in opening round wins. Nebraska’s Logan Nissley was one of those, tying Alexis Markowski with a team-best 16 points on Friday. That’s the most scored by a Husker freshman in the tourney since at least 2000, and likely ever. 

Elsewhere, Audi Crooks dropped 40 for Iowa State on 18-for-20 shooting. JuJu Watkins tied for USC’s team lead with 23 points in a first-round thrashing of a No. 16 seed. Alabama’s Essence Cody rounds out the group with 20 points in a win over Florida State. 

>> Raegan Beers has been battling through injury in her impressive sophomore season. She’ll be sporting a mask on Sunday, as she broke her nose earlier in the year.

There was also a scary moment in Oregon State’s first-round win, as she went down in a lot of pain with an ankle injury at the end of the third quarter. She didn’t return to the game, but came back to the bench and practiced on Saturday. 

It seems she won’t be limited much for Sunday’s matchup.

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