Saturday afternoon is another interesting matchup within the Big Ten. This time, it isn’t the No. 3 Ohio State women’s basketball team against another program at the top of the standings. On paper, its Ohio State versus an unranked Nebraska Cornhuskers team, but looks may be deceiving.
It’s a game between exceeding and failing to meet expectations, but for Nebraska there won’t be better motivation to get on the right track than a trip west to take on Ohio State.
Last season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers won their first 12 games, becoming the surprise team in the Big Ten before conference play got going. While that undefeated clip didn't last, Big Red improved on their 2020-21 season record of 13-13, and matched records with the Indiana Hoosiers who were at one point a top contender to win the regular season B1G title.
That strong play never got Nebraska onto the AP Top 25, but that changed this season. The Cornhuskers began the season at No. 22, and weren’t able to hide under the radar anymore. What’s followed is a year that’s been interesting for Nebraska.
After playing two smaller non-conference teams, the Cornhuskers began to slip. Against the No. 20 Creighton Blue Jays, Nebraska fell by 26 points, and four days later lost to the Drake Bulldogs, 62-80.
Since their fall, it’s been inconsistent for head coach Amy Williams’ team. On one game day, the Cornhuskers are losing by over 30 points to the Virginia Tech Hokies, and days later beating a ranked Maryland Terrapins team away from home. Then, last week Nebraska lost to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and scored just 45 points in the defeat.
While Ohio State has a tough quarter or two on occasion and finds a way to bounce back, Big Red goes cold some nights and hot on another. Which side will the Buckeyes see on Saturday?
Nebraska’s led by Australian international guard Jaz Shelley and 2021-22 Freshman of the Year, forward Alexis Markowski. Shelley leads the team in scoring with 14 points per game, and her 112 assists are best for third in the conference.
Shelley is dangerous in the half court. The guard can look off defenders and send a no-look pass or make moves to get past defenders herself. It’ll be a challenge for Buckeyes point guard Rikki Harris to go one-on-one with Shelley.
Last season against the Buckeyes, Shelley scored 14 points and had five assists in a 70-80 defeat. What bodes well for Ohio State entering Saturday is Shelley’s form’s dipped slightly. In the last three games, the guard has 15 combined points. In that was a zero point performance in their loss to the Scarlet Knights.
Opposite the talented guard is Markowski, Nebraska’s center from Lincoln, Nebraska.
Markowski did to the Buckeyes last year what many bigs have done over the past two seasons. In only 23 minutes, Markowski scored 24 points and grabbed 15 boards in the Cornhuskers defeat. If not for getting into foul trouble, it might have been more. Markowski exposed the Buckeyes lack of interior presence as a freshman, and she’s getting better.
She’s a center who goes strong inside the paint, but has enough touch to shoot from deep. So far this season, Markowski already has 15, compared to 21 all of last season. Also, in her sophomore year, she’s improving in her rebounding grabbing 1.4 more per game than last season.
This season, the Scarlet & Gray haven’t done well against bigs, so Markowski and Big Red carry that as a distinct advantage. Another positive for Nebraska is playing on their home court — a formidable college atmosphere.
“Tough place to win,” said head coach Kevin McGuff. “They have a great fan base so we know that it will be a really difficult game for us.”
Overcome the crowd noise, like the Buckeyes did in Louisville, and the sixth player of the home audience could be negated. Nebraska used it to their advantage on Wednesday, when they welcomed the Penn State Nittany Lions to Cornhusker country.
The Nittany Lions pressed the Cornhuskers — similar but not as intense as the Buckeyes’ press — but Penn State missed shots because of good Nebraska defense. The Cornhuskers got through the press and won 80-51. Is now the time the home side finds that needed consistency and move an impressive conference win’s momentum into the weekend?
- Guard Rikki Harris is averaging 5.4 assists per game since stepping into the point guard role on Dec. 21.
- Guard Taylor Mikesell is 46 points away from 2,000 points scored in her NCAA career.
- Ohio State is 3-4 against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
- Markowski’s 9.4 rebounds is second in the conference behind Illinois’ Kendall Bostic.
- Nebraska is another tough defensive opponent for Ohio State, sitting second in the conference with 60.6 points allowed per game.
- Center Maggie Mendelson is a 6-foot-5 17-year-old dual sport athlete. The Utah native finished her freshman season with Nebraska volleyball before joining the Cornhuskers in the last six games.
The rest is going to help the Buckeyes for Saturday’s game. The bye week didn’t bring back guard Jacy Sheldon from her foot injury, but small knocks had a chance to heal for the remaining players on the bench, and gave the Scarlet & Gray time to work on the intensity needed to sustain their play throughout 40 minutes.
Nebraska will start the game off strong, feeding off the crowd, but not have the same luck stopping the Buckeyes as they did the Maryland Terrapins to start Big Ten play.
Ohio State’s press will kick in during the second quarter and force turnovers, turning them into points.
How to Watch
Date: Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pinnacle Arena, Lincoln, Nebraska
Television: Big Ten Network
Stream: Fox Sports with a Big Ten Network subscription
LGHL Prediction: 83-71 Ohio State Buckeyes
Big Ten Homestand
After Saturday’s game, the Buckeyes return to Columbus for their first homestand of the Big Ten calendar. Up first are the Northwestern Wildcats on Thursday, Jan. 19, but eyes are all on Monday, Jan. 23. That’s when guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes come to Ohio State for a main event-like game and atmosphere.