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No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Nebraska preview

The Terps head back to College Park in search of their fifth straight victory.

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball returns home to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a Sunday matinee.

The Terps have strung together their largest win streak since November, riding four wins in a row into their matchup with Nebraska.

In its most recent matchup on Thursday, Maryland escaped East Lansing, Michigan, with a 67-62 win over Michigan State. The Spartans gave Maryland all that it could handle, pushing the deficit to as little as two with fewer than one minute to play. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese — who had a monster showing with 25 points and nine rebounds — put the finishing touches on the win with a pretty post move leading to a layup to give the Terps a four-point advantage with 26 seconds left.

“Great, tough road win against a really tough Michigan State team,” head coach Brenda Frese said, “and we’re excited about building on this momentum.”

While the road win kept Maryland’s Big Ten title hopes alive, the overarching question becomes the health of star point guard Ashley Owusu. The Maryland junior went down with an ankle injury late in the first quarter against Michigan State and was helped off the floor by two staff members and did not return to the game. Owusu was seen wearing a boot and using crutches on the sideline, but her status is currently unknown.

Sunday’s matchup will continue Maryland’s “February Frenzy,” a term that Frese coined to turn around the season in the new month. The contest will tip at 1 p.m. and air on BTN Plus.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-4, 6-4 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 13-13 (9-10 Big Ten)

Head coach Amy Williams returned to her alma mater in 2016 and has been the head coach ever since. Williams played for the Huskers from 1994-98 and had head coaching stints at NAIA Rogers State and South Dakota State before coming back to Lincoln. The 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year is just 45 years old and has put Nebraska in a great position to have continued success.

All of Nebraska’s losses this season have come in conference play. The Huskers started 12-0 before falling four straight times. Nebraska has answered its four-game losing streak with four wins in a row; it holds an 18.8 average margin of victory during the streak. Like Maryland, Nebraska returns five starters from the 2020-21 season, though its official media guide lists it returning five starters and losing one (Kate Cain). In its last contest on Thursday, Nebraska took down Penn State at home, 76-61.

Players to know

Alexis Markowski, freshman center/forward, 6-foot-3, No. 40 — Nebraska returns two All-Big Ten honorees, but it is the freshman Markowski who is leading it in scoring at 12.5 points per game. Markowski started against Penn State but has come off the bench in 13 of the Huskers’ 21 games. The 2021 Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year is already making a significant impact on her home team.

Sam Haiby, junior guard, 5-foot-9, No. 4 — A Second Team All-Big Ten selection in 2021, Haiby is the reigning Nebraska team MVP. Haiby led Nebraska in scoring at 16.8 points per game last year, but she has taken a step back this year. Haiby is averaging 10.9 points per game this season and her three-point percentage has dropped more than 10 points from last season. She scored 24 points against Maryland on March 11, 2021.

Jaz Shelley, sophomore guard, 5-foot-9, No. 1 — The Australian is in her first year with Nebraska after transferring from Oregon. Shelley has been a difference-maker for the Huskers, averaging 12.4 points per game and starting all 20 games she has played in. Remarkably, Shelley also leads Nebraska in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. She is also shooting 40.9% from three-point range, proving she can hurt opponents in a variety of ways.

Strength

Scoring offense. The Huskers know how to fill it up, scoring 79.4 points per game. That mark is the fourth-best in the Big Ten and the 11th-best in the nation. Nebraska also holds the conference’s highest scoring margin at 19.2 points per game. It is fascinating that Nebraska has such a prolific offense with nobody averaging more than 12.5 points per game, but it is still explosive nonetheless.

Weakness

Free-throw shooting. Nebraska is a well-rounded offensive and defensive team, ranking in the top-four in the conference in scoring defense, as well. But, the Huskers rank 11th in the Big Ten in free-throw shooting, only making 71% of its attempts at the line. Markowski shoots 63.1% from the charity stripe, while sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne makes less than half of her attempts at 48.6%.

Three things to watch

1. What’s up with Owusu? The injury to the Terps’ star guard is a major cause for concern. Though Owusu’s scoring numbers are down nearly four points from last season, what she brings to the Maryland lineup is impossible to replace. If Owusu is to miss any time, Maryland’s rotation will be down to six players, with junior forward/guard Faith Masonius already done for the season with a torn ACL. It is a tough ask to go on with that small of a rotation, and Owusu’s injury is one that Maryland simply cannot afford for that reason alone. The plan was for her to get an X-ray upon returning to College Park, and updates will be provided when available.

If Owusu is out for an extended period of time, look for freshman guard Shyanne Sellers to emerge into a much greater role. Sellers had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals in a fantastic all-around performance against the Spartans.

2. Can Maryland stay perfect against Nebraska? In 14 games all-time against the Huskers, Maryland has never lost. The series dates back to 2008, so Frese has been at the helm for all of those matchups. Maryland has won each game against Nebraska by an average margin of 19.4 points per game, with only two of them being decided by fewer than 10 points. Nebraska seems to be a much tougher matchup this year than ever. Expect it to keep it closer than its average deficit.

3. How will Maryland perform on the boards? Outrebounding opponents has been a focus for the Terps all season long, and they were able to turn that focus into a victory against Michigan State by outrebounding it, 42-40. In half of its first 10 Big Ten games, Maryland was beaten on the boards. Baylor, NC State, Stanford and Baylor also grabbed more rebounds than the Terps in their respective meetings. Nebraska is the best team rebounding club in the Big Ten, so an impressive performance against it would be encouraging going forward for the Terps.

Reese, who ranks second in the nation with 5.3 offensive rebounds per game, will be a main part of that.

“Having confidence in my teammates that they’re going to make the shot, but them even knowing that if they miss, I’ll get the cleanup,” said Reese in Thursday’s postgame presser. “So I think that just also puts confidence in my teammates and with the team. I know they know that I’m going to always get the offensive rebounds and I think that tonight, a lot of other people got offensive rebounds. Diamond [Miller] got in, Shyanne got in.”