Thursday was going to be a challenge for the Nebraska women’s basketball team. It had been over a week since Nebraska’s last game. On top of this, the Huskers’ first game after the break was a road match against conference opponent Michigan State.
After four vigorous quarters, the once-undefeated Huskers grieved their first loss of the 2021-2022 season with a 72-69 defeat.
Leading the Spartans was star senior guard Nia Clouden, who had 32 points in the game. This along with Michigan State missing five of their players was just enough to shake things up against Nebraska as it was forced to adjust from the start of the game.
“This was a tough loss,” Nebraska women’s basketball head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “We know going on the road is tough, especially when you have a whole gameplan but are forced to adjust. Clouden also played great which was another thing that played to their advantage.”
As for the Huskers, junior guard Sam Haiby led the way with 19 points, seven rebounds, a career-high six steals, five assists and a block. Behind Haiby was sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin with 12 points, all from beyond the arc. The only other double-digit scorer for Nebraska was freshman center Alexis Markowski with 11 points, six rebounds and an assist.
As a team, the Huskers were just 24-of-73 in field goal shooting, 7-of-33 in 3-point shooting and were outrebounded 45-38 by the Spartans.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Williams said. “We also talked before the ballgame and said if you want to win on the road against a Big Ten opponent you have to rebound. We were outrebounded by seven and that’s something you can’t do.”
From the tip-off, Michigan State took control of the game after striking the first few blows in the battle and going up 4-0. Haiby only scored four first half points, all of which came in her counterattack following the Spartans early start. Michigan State retaliated to Haiby’s run with seven straight to push its lead to 11-4. But the Huskers dropped another four-piece to cut the deficit to 11-8.
After the Spartans pushed the lead to 18-11, junior forward Bella Cravens tried to start something for Nebraska after going 2-of-2 from the foul line. Michigan State however also went 2-of-2 at the free-throw line to maintain its seven point lead. But sophomore guard Jaz Shelley delivered a quick 3-pointer, which ended up being the last basket of the quarter and sent Nebraska into the second down 20-16.
Scoggin didn’t waste any time to give the Huskers the lead in the second as she dropped back-to-back 3-pointers to make the score 22-20. The tempo continued as both teams zipped up and down the court, but for over two minutes, neither team could land a shot. The Spartans equalized the game with a jumper and then took the lead with a free throw. Shelley replied to the lead change by tossing a jumper of her own to make the score 24-23.
Michigan State regained the lead with another jumper and then widened the margin. In the blink of an eye, the Spartans were up 35-24. Markowski got the margin back under double digits following a put-back shot. But Michigan State once again went 2-of-2 at the free-throw line and led 37-26 as the teams headed into the locker rooms. At halftime, Nebraska had taken 18 shots from beyond the arc and only landed three of them.
“We were faced up against some bigger bodies for the first time and we didn’t finish well,” Williams said. “Then all of a sudden we stopped going in the paint. We need to make an emphasis on going in the paint and not settle for 33 3-point shots in a game.”
Both sides dropped jumpers within the first minute of the third quarter, making the score 39-28. Then the Huskers began to cut into the lead, with layups by sophomore forward Izzy Bourne and Haiby along with a Haiby free throw. Following a Cravens jumper, the Spartans tried to push the margin back, as they got their lead up to 10 points. Haiby once again took a trip to the foul line and went 2-of-2, making the deficit 47-39.
Markowski continued Nebraska’s free throw excellence, delivering four straight free throws and a layup to make the deficit 49-45. After the Spartans got the lead to 51-45, Shelley put up her second 3-pointer of the game to make the deficit 51-48. Before the quarter ended, Michigan State rattled off four straight points to head into the final quarter up 55-48.
It was freshman forward Annika Stewart’s turn to unleash a surge of strikes as she opened up the fourth with five straight points to make it a two-point game. A Spartan 3-pointer and a layup pushed the margin back to seven. But a Scoggin 3-pointer cut the margin down to four. After trading baskets, Haiby brought the game back to a two-point margin at 62-60.
The Spartans pushed the lead to 66-60 before the Huskers brought the deficit to 66-64. Michigan State stopped the run, pushing the lead to 68-64. Haiby responded by going 2-of-2 at the line to make the score 68-66. Then with under a minute left, the Spartans went 1-of-2 at the foul line to make it a three-point game. The margin grew to five after a Michigan State jumper with 25 seconds left.
With 20 seconds left, Scoggin gave Nebraska a chance with a 3-pointer to suddenly make it a 71-69 point game. Things seemed bleak, though, as the Spartans went 1-of-2 at the foul line to make it a 72-69 game. With the clock winding down, Shelley in a last-ditch effort tried her 11th and 12th 3-point attempts of the game. But, sadly for the Huskers, neither went in and the first loss of the season had come for them. For Shelley, she finished the game with just eight points and was 2-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“Jaz [Shelley] had great shots all game,” Williams said. “But they just didn’t go in and that’s going to happen in some games. I’m not concerned about it because I know she can make those shots and we’re going to continue encouraging her to take those shots in the future.”
With its first loss of the season, Nebraska is now 12-1 in the regular season and 1-1 in conference play. The next game for the Huskers won’t be easier, as they face their toughest challenge yet in the form of No. 9 Michigan.
“The biggest thing for us is at the end of the season, be as far away from where we were at the beginning of the season,” Williams said. “We know growth comes from adversity. We learned some lessons from this loss and continue to be a better team.”
Tipoff against the Wolverines is set for 8 p.m. on Jan. 4 at home. The game can be viewed on Big Ten Network or listened to on Husker Radio Network.