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Nebraska WBB vs Michigan State Preview

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The Spartans have lost key pieces but will still be a tough test for the Huskers

Scott Bruhn

Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at Michigan State Spartans (7-6, 1-1 Big Ten)

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, 2 p.m. (CT)

Breslin Center - East Lansing, Michigan

Live TV: BTN (Mike Hall, Stephanie White)

Live Radio: Huskers Radio Network (1:45 p.m.) Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst) Lincoln (107.3 FM), Omaha (ESPN 590 AM), Huskers.com, Huskers App

This game was originally not going to be televised, but BTN couldn’t resist the opportunity to showcase an unbeaten team against a 2020-21 NCAA tournament team. The Spartans have lost a lot of key pieces from that team, but are always a tough opponents and get to play at home. Nebraska has played a weak schedule and the pollsters are waiting for victories against highly regarded opponents before moving them into the rankings. The Huskers will have their opportunities as their next six games are against 2021 NCAA tournament teams with three of those teams ranked (Iowa, Indiana, Michigan) and two in the top 10 (Indiana and Michigan). Since Nebraska and Iowa play twice in that stretch, four of those games will be against ranked teams.

Husker Balance and Depth

Transfer guard Jaz Shelley has grabbed a lot of the Husker headlilnes and rightfully so. The Husker point guard leads the team in scoring (14.3 ppg), only has two less rebounds on the season (79) as team leader Bella Cravens (81), and leads the team in assists and blocked shots. Returning All-Big Ten selections, Sam Haiby and Issie Bourne, both average in or near double digits in scoring (9.8 and 10.6 ppg respectively). In 2020-21, the Huskers had a hard time scoring points if teams shut down Haiby and/or Bourne. This season, they are still important, but part of a three-headed monster that is much more difficult to defend.

Opposing coaches have started to prioritize Shelley in their game planning but other Huskers have made it difficult to commit too much attention to her. In twelve games, seven different Huskers have been the leader/co-leader in points scored.

  • Jaz Shelley (six games) (two-time B1G honor roll)
  • Issie Bourne (two games)
  • Sam Haiby
  • Bella Cravens
  • Alexis Markowski (two-time B1G Freshman of the Week)
  • Ashley Scoggin
  • Annika Stewart (1X B1G honor roll)

The Husker bench has outscored opponent reserves 401-198 (+16.9 ppg) through 12 games, including a 310-152 edge (+19.8 ppg) in eight games at home. A total of 11 Huskers are averaging better than 10.0 points per 40 minutes, including four Huskers (Annika Stewart, 30.2; Alexis Markowski, 24.3; Isabelle Bourne, 21.3; and Jaz Shelley, 21.1) who are averaging better than 20 points per 40 minutes.

No Husker ranks among the top 25 players in the conference in minutes per game. Jaz Shelley leads Nebraska with 27.1 minutes per game, while McKenna Warnock from Iowa ranks 25th in the conference (29.6 mpg). Amy Williams works to get all of her players on the floor most seasons but this group has been more balanced than most. The starter with the fewest minutes per game is Issie Bourne with 19.8 minutes. Only three Huskers are on the floor less than ten minutes per game (and one of those is over nine). I don’t think it is a coincidence that Nebraska has been able to pull away from close games in the fourth quarter to win by significant margins. Fresh legs allow the Huskers to run in transition and press more than tired teams. The depth has also kept Nebraska out of significant foul trouble, reducing the other team’s opportunities to get to the line or to attack

Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-0, 1-0 Big Ten)
14 - Bella Cravens - 6-3 - Jr. - F - 7.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg
34 - Isabelle Bourne - 6-2 - So. - F - 10.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg
0 - Ashley Scoggin - 5-7 - RSo. - G - 8.9 ppg, 1.1 rpg
1 - Jaz Shelley - 5-9 - So. - G - 14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 9.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg

Off the Bench
40 - Alexis Markowski - 6-3 - Fr. - F/C - 8.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg
21 - Annika Stewart - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg
3 - Allison Weidner - 5-10 - Fr. - G - 5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg
32 - Kendall Coley - 6-2 - Fr. - F/G - 4.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 - MiCole Cayton - 5-9 - Gr. - G - 2.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg
11 - Ruby Porter - 5-10 - Fr. - G - 2.8 ppg, 0.9 rpg
15 - Kendall Moriarty - 6-1 - Fr. - G - 1.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg
10 - Whitney Brown - 5-8 - Fr. - G - 1.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg

Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998) Sixth Season at Nebraska (84-75); 15th Season Overall (277-184)

Michigan State Spartans (7-6, 1-1 Big Ten)
2 - Tamara Farquhar - 6-0 - Gr. - F - 5.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg
4 - Alisia Smith - 6-3 - Gr. - F - 6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg
0 - DeeDee Hagemann - 5-7 - Fr. - G - 8.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg
11 - Matilda Ekh - 6-0 - Fr. - G/F - 10.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
24 - Nia Clouden - 5-8 - Sr. - G - 21.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Off the Bench
14 - Taiyier Parks - 6-3 - Jr. - F - 7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
22 - Moira Joiner - 5-10 - Jr. - G - 6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg
12 - Isaline Alexander - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 2.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg
21 - Laurel Jaqmain - 5-8 - Gr. - G - 1.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
10 - Lauren Walker - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg
21 - Brooklyn Rewers - 6-4 - Fr. - C - 1.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg
20 - Jayla James - 6-1 - Jr. - F - 0.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg

Head Coach: Suzy Merchant (Central Michigan, 1991) 15th Season at Michigan State (303-163); 26th Season Overall (504-283)

Michigan State heads into Thursday’s game with a 7-6 record after dropping games to Florida Gulf Coast (85-84 2OT) and West Virginia (74-54) at the West Palm Beach Invitational, Dec. 20-21.

Spartan senior guard Nia Clouden erupted for a Michigan State school-record 50 points in the loss to FGCU. Clouden has been both dynamic and efficient this season, averaging team bests of 21.8 points, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals while hitting 48.9 percent of her field goal attempts, including 40 percent (20-50) of her three-pointers, and 90.8 percent (89-98) of her free throws. She has added 4.3 boards.

Michigan State has lost four of its last five games with a Big Ten home win over Illinois (75-60, Dec. 9) preceded by December losses to Notre Dame (76-71) and at Iowa (88-61). Following the loss at Iowa, Spartan point guard Alyza Winston (12.2 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.4 spg) entered the transfer portal after starting MSU’s first 10 games.

Freshman DeeDee Hagemann from Detroit has stepped into the Spartan starting five since Winston’s transfer. The 5-7 guard has averaged 10.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals as a starter and has averaged 8.7 points and 3.4 rebounds overall this season. Fellow freshman Matilda Ekh (10.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and graduate Alisia Smith (6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) have joined Clouden in the Spartan starting five for all 13 games. Ekh leads the Spartans from long range by hitting 24 three-pointers (.453). Smith, a 6-3 forward, is shooting a solid 53.4 percent (37-73) overall from the field. Smith is in her second season at MSU after spending her first three seasons at Penn State.

Another graduate transfer from a Big Ten school, Tamara Farquhar (Purdue) rounds out Michigan’s State’s probable starting five, averaging 5.2 points and 5.9 rebounds this season.