Michigan vs. Nebraska, 12.28

Nebraska guard Nicea Eliely (5) jumps to block a shot by Michigan forward Naz Hillmon on Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

There is a small sample size for the Nebraska women’s basketball team during the Big Ten Conference season, with just two games played, but maybe they did learn a few of those lessons that coach Amy Williams was hoping they would during a disappointing nonconference season, especially on defense.

Nebraska (7-6) has started the Big Ten season 2-0, with wins against Michigan and Ohio State, and is in a three-way tie for first place in the league.

In those games, Nebraska held its opponents to 56 and 69 points after a nonconference season when Nebraska gave up at least 80 points five times.

Nebraska has been especially good in the fourth quarter, getting steals and turning them into points.

“I think the sting of some of those early season losses on the road, it kind of still hurts, and I think that’s what motivates them to make plays and get on the floor and try and come away with rebounds when it’s crucial time,” Williams said.

Nebraska has outscored its opponents 60-29 in the fourth quarter in the two Big Ten games.

“I like that toughness and that ability to fight back and dig in and not quit when things get kind of rough,” Williams said. “I think that some of that nonconference schedule and those tough road games were very, very hard to live through, but they taught us some things.”

NU ranks fourth in the Big Ten in defense through two conference games, holding opponents to an average of 62.5 points per game.

Nebraska will probably need a good game on defense Thursday, when the Huskers travel to play 19th-ranked Iowa in Iowa City.

Iowa (9-3, 0-1 Big Ten) has one of the best players in the Big Ten in Megan Gustafson, a 6-foot-3 forward who earned second-team All-America honors last season, and became the program’s all-time leading scorer this week.

Gustafson can score in transition and will require Nebraska to play great team defense.

Gustafson averages 26.8 points and 12.6 rebounds in 32 minutes per contest while shooting a remarkable 72.9 percent from the field and 79.2 percent at the free-throw line. She has won six of the eight Big Ten player-of-the-week awards this season, most recently on Christmas Eve after exploding for 44 points and 14 rebounds in a 91-82 win against Drake.

She added 30 points and 14 rebounds in the first Big Ten game, against Michigan State, but Iowa lost 84-70.

Against Iowa, Nebraska can’t have too many bad stretches of play.

“The biggest thing we hope we learned is when you’re playing really good teams, which the Big Ten is loaded with them, is that you can’t take possessions off,” Williams said. “You have to be able to string together 40 minutes. Any time you let off the gas for one possession, and play standing straight up and down on defense, then they’re going to make you pay for that.”

The Hawkeyes are averaging 83.6 points per game, with all five starters averaging double figures.

Iowa junior guard Kathleen Doyle, who recently returned from a broken left hand, has averaged 12.2 points and 4.6 assists over the last five games after missing the first seven games of the season. Doyle had signed with Nebraska before there was a coaching change.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.


Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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