By Joe Tykane
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Nebraska advanced to a quarterfinal game in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament after vanquishing Illinois, 92-74, on Thursday night. The result was anticipated, but Nebraska’s tournament record of 15 3-point baskets made the achievement memorable.
The sixth-seeded Cornhuskers (23-7) will meet No. 3 Michigan in a quarterfinal game Friday night. Sophomore guard Jaz Shelley overwhelmed the Illini with her shooting, finishing with 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including nine of 13 from beyond the 3-point line. Shelley punished defenders who went under screens with pull-up jumpers and sprinted off screens into open shots, ultimately finishing the game by tying the Big Ten Tournament single-game record and breaking the Nebraska record for 3-pointers made in a game.
Shelley’s fingerprints were all over this game. Her passing was spectacular. She zapped the ball over to open shooters in the corners. She found open rollers and cutters in stride. She threw pristine entry passes to post players. She manipulated the defense with her eyes to create openings. She finished the game with seven assists, but even those seven aren’t indicative of how much control Shelley had over this game with her masterful decision making.
In her first-ever conference tournament, Big Ten Freshman of the Year winner Alexis Markowski looked like a seasoned veteran. Finishing the game with 22 points, nine rebounds, and three 3-pointers, Markowski punished the Illini inside and outside. Markowski’s shooting as a stretch five added a dimension to Nebraska’s offense that caused fits for Illinois (7-20). Illini Coach Nancy Fahey shed some light on the difficulties Markowski presented for her team’s defense, saying “I think one thing about it that was really challenging with Nebraska is they’re post popping to be able to shoot threes. And so where your help came from was a challenge.”
Michigan will come into the quarterfinal with a 22-5 record. In the previous matchup, Nebraska outclassed Michigan, winning 78-59 at home. Michigan will have to try and slow down Markowski, who scored 20 points on 10 shots. Nebraska Coach Amy Williams says the team is the excited for the matchup, and that they “feel like in order to prove that we belong on this stage and to be playing for championships and to be playing in NCAA tournaments you have to play the best teams in the country. Michigan is definitely one of those, and so we’re excited for the opportunity.”