Nebraska’s Ruby Porter (11) celebrates during the game against Iowa at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In its last three games, the Nebraska women’s basketball team has been showing signs of its dominant early-season form. The Huskers have beaten their last three opponents by double-digit deficits. 

The most recent of those came against Rutgers, a 50-38 victory that featured a strong defensive performance from both squads. Rutgers finished the game shooting 32.7% from the field and an unimpressive 12.5% from 3-point range. 

At the start of this three-game win streak, Nebraska’s defense ranked No. 149 nationally, allowing 62.1 points per game. Currently, the Huskers are ranked No. 107 in scoring defense, allowing 60.1 points per game, according to NCAA.com. In the latest winning stretch for the Huskers, the defense has been holding their opponents to 49.3 points per game. 

Nebraska’s defense has been coupled with a consistent offense. The Huskers rank No. 17 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to herhoopstats.com, an impressive uptick from a 2020-21 season in which they finished No. 61 in the metric. The high-octane offense has been recently led by freshman forward/center and five-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week Alexis Markowski. 

Markowski, in the last seven games, has been given the opportunity to be a part of the starting lineup and has taken full advantage of her newfound role. The Lincoln, Nebraska native has risen up the ranks to currently sit in a close second for points per game with 12.3, just behind sophomore guard Jaz Shelley with 12.7 points per contest. 

Markowski’s energy and confidence in her 3-point shot have been a key component to the Huskers’ offense as of late. In the Rutgers game, Markowski led the team with 16 points on 5-of-12 from the field with 15 rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes. 

There’s a caveat to Nebraska’s recent winning streak, though. The Huskers’ last three opponents are not highly-favored in advanced metrics. According to herhoopstats.com, Nebraska’s last three victories have come against No. 264 Wisconsin, No. 76 Purdue and No. 118 Rutgers. The opponents have not been the most menacing that the Huskers have faced, and the same will continue on Thursday against No. 153 Penn State. 

Currently, the Nittany Lions are on a four-game losing streak and have a 3-7 record in Big Ten play. Despite Penn State coming into Thursday's matchup as the fourth worst team in the Big Ten, junior guard Makenna Marisa in particular could pose problems for the Huskers. 

This season, Nebraska has played a brand of team defense but has not found an isolation defender to take on the opposition's best scorer one-on-one. The Nittany Lions, unfortunately for the Huskers, have that scorer in Marisa who is currently scoring 22.0 points per game. 

The McMurray, Pennsylvania native will test the Huskers’ defense from every aspect of the floor. Marisa is a dynamic shooter from anywhere on the court as well as proving adept at getting to the free throw line. The 5-foot-11 guard is shooting 45.3% from the field, 37.5% from 3-point range and a sparkling 81.7% from the free throw line. 

Marisa isn’t just a scorer for the Nittany Lions as she also leads the team in assists, with 84, as well as ranks fourth in rebounds on the team. The Huskers have been able to handle, for the most part, high-octane scorers but have struggled with premier ball handlers like Marisa. The Nittany Lions have two depth pieces that could cause the Huskers some trouble, too.

Along with Marisa, the Nittany Lions have two other scorers that the Huskers need to contain in sophomore forward Ali Brigham and redshirt freshman guard Leilani Kapinus. 

Brigham and Kapinus are the second and third-leading scorers averaging 10.2 and 8.9 points per game, respectively. 

Nebraska’s main objective will have to be to slow down the efforts from Marisa as well as exploit Penn State’s weakness: its defense. According to herhoopstats.com, the Nittany Lions enter Thursday’s game with the No. 250 defensive rating nationally. The Huskers’ offense will have to take advantage of a Penn State defense that allows 73.6 points per game. 

Nebraska comes into this matchup as a sizable favorite, with a 93.3% chance of winning the game according to herhoopstats.com. Still, the Huskers will have to get the job done defensively, namely slowing Marisa down. 

The Huskers beat the Nittany Lions the last time the two faced off in a 87-72 contest in February 2021. In the last showdown, Marisa scored 21 points but was shown up by performances from sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne and sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin with 22 and 18 points, respectively. 

Thursday's home matchup will tip off at 7:00 p.m. and can be viewed on the Big Ten Network.