Nebraska women’s basketball has found itself in an unfamiliar trend relative to the rest of the 2021-2022 season.
Following Nebraska’s biggest win of the season against then-No. 8 Michigan on Jan. 4, the Huskers dropped the next three games to then-No. 22 Iowa (twice) and No. 6 Indiana. However, the Huskers have been playing without some of their key contributors.
During the stretch, the Huskers had to play without junior forward Bella Cravens, junior guard Sam Haiby and sophomore guard Jaz Shelley. Despite this, the team’s overall depth kept the Huskers in all of those games.
In the last three games, all starts, freshman center/forward Alexis Markowski averaged 19.3 points per game. In Nebraska’s latest game against the Hawkeyes, Markowski scored a career-high 27 points and shot a sparkling 6-of-7 from 3-point range. Along with Markowski, a pair of freshman guards in Allison Weidner and Ruby Porter were recent additions to the starting lineup that filled in nicely.
The Huskers’ two scheduled matchups before the game against Wisconsin were postponed, but perhaps that pause came at the right time for the team.
The Huskers are expected to have both Haiby and Shelley return to the starting lineup against the Badgers, with Cravens available on the bench.
Nebraska enters Thursday’s contest in a poor run of defensive form. In its most recent game against Iowa, the Huskers shot the ball well: 46.4% from the field and 46.7% from 3-point range, which keeps the Huskers at no. 18 and no. 21 in respective Division I categories. Defense proved far more problematic for Nebraska than its offense.
During the losing streak, the Huskers took a huge drop in their defensive statistics. Nebraska currently ranks No. 149 in scoring defense, allowing its opponents to score 62.1 points per game, according to NCAA.com. After not allowing an opponent to score 70 points until Dec. 30 against Michigan State, the Huskers have allowed four of their last five opponents to break the threshold.
Wisconsin, ranking no. 285 and scoring 58.6 points per game, could potentially give the Huskers an easy way to ease back into play.
According to the Big Ten standings, Wisconsin will be the Huskers’ least threatening opponent of the year so far, even if it enters the game off of a 69-57 victory against Penn State. The Badgers rank 12th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten.
However, the Badgers do have a pair of junior guards that could cause the Huskers some problems in Julie Pospisilova and Sydney Hilliard. Pospisilova leads the way for the Badgers averaging 14.6 points per game with Hilliard following with 12.6.
Pospisilova may not be as menacing as the scoring prowess Nebraska previously faced, like Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, but both will have to be held in check by the Huskers.
Hilliard, on the other hand, poses a different type of challenge. The Monroe, Wisconsin native ranks first on the team and No. 33 nationally for field goal percentage at 54.2%. Hilliard has not attempted a 3-pointer all season, so the Huskers will need to protect the mid-range and the paint as the guard will try to drive early and often.
Hilliard, when at the free throw line, cashes in her shots 65% of the time. In previous games, Nebraska tended to fail due to a lack of defensive discipline — the Huskers committed 28 fouls and the Hawkeyes made them pay at the line. Nebraska will have to limit fouls as Wisconsin may look to attack that newfound weakness.
Entering Thursday’s matchup, the Badgers come in with a huge disadvantage as they rank no. 246 in scoring defense, meaning the Huskers will have opportunities to score with ease.
In all, Nebraska should be able to take advantage of a team that has not proven able to stop high-octane offenses this year. The Huskers will still need to execute on what has given them success this year, out-rebounding the opposition and shooting efficiently from 3-point range.
Nebraska will try to replicate the two foes’ last matchup when they beat Wisconsin 84-68. This Thursday’s home matchup for the Huskers will tip off at 8:00 pm at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The showdown can be viewed on Big Ten Network as well as listened to on Huskers Radio Network.