January 2, 2024 

Big Ten notebook: Michigan surprises, Nebraska defends home court and Michigan State continues to impress

The Wolverines defend their home court against ranked Ohio State

It was a short week of Big Ten play with teams off for over a week, but conference action resumed Saturday with several notable outcomes. Michigan improved to 2-0 in the Big Ten after a home win over No. 17 Ohio State, Nebraska beat Maryland for the second time in school history and Michigan State held off Penn State in a shootout in Happy Valley.

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Here’s your Week 8 notebook of Big Ten action.

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What everybody’s talking about: Michigan picks up another impressive win

The Michigan Wolverines entered their Big Ten opener against Illinois on Dec. 10 in a state of flux — they’d just lost to Toledo by 25 points and didn’t look much like the NCAA Tournament team we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Ann Arbor. But they rebounded in a big way, taking down Illinois by 36 to start their conference season on the right foot.

Michigan continued its early Big Ten play success on Saturday with its 69-60 victory over the Buckeyes. Never trailing by more than five points, the Wolverines turned in a steady performance to close out 2023. Junior guard Laila Phelia scored a career-high 26 points, and graduate guard Lauren Hansen added 17, as she continues to grow more comfortable with Kim Barnes Arico’s system.

Defensively, the Wolverines held Ohio State’s graduate guard Jacy Sheldon and sophomore forward Cotie McMahon to just 12 points combined. Since scoring 27 against Penn State on Dec. 10, McMahon has averaged just 4.8 points per game over her last four contests.

Michigan has another opportunity to prove itself Thursday, when it will face Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

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This caught my attention: Cornhuskers finding consistency

Nebraska head coach Amy Williams entered the season focusing on finding more consistency from her group. Besides a 69-52 hiccup against Kansas on Dec. 20, the Cornhuskers have generally taken care of business so far, and that continued Sunday with an impressive 87-81 victory over Maryland.

The Huskers had never beaten the Terps until last season, and Sunday marked their first home victory over one of the conference’s perennial powerhouses. Junior center/forward Alexis Markowski led the way for Nebraska with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double, while freshman forward Natalie Potts turned in the best performance of her young career, with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Graduate guard Jaz Shelley added 13 points and 11 assists, and sophomore guard Callin Hake contributed 16 points and five rebounds off the bench.

Even though Maryland received a 25-point performance from graduate guard Lavender Briggs, it wasn’t enough to overcome junior guard Shyanne Sellers scoring just four points on 1-of-7 shooting.

Now 10-3, Nebraska enters the new year 2-0 in Big Ten play and will face Wisconsin in Madison on Thursday and Indiana at home next Sunday.

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Other notable headlines

Mackenzie Holmes drops 30, Indiana fends off desperate Illinois

Senior forward Mackenzie Holmes’ 30-point effort was just enough to lift the No. 16 Hoosiers over Illinois, 77-71, on Sunday. Although Illinois fought back from a 29-19 deficit in the second quarter and a 48-37 deficit midway through the third to tie the game early in the fourth, the Illini suffered yet another narrow defeat.

Holmes’ performance was the third straight game in which a Hoosier scored at least 30 points, and the win propelled Indiana to 11-1 this year. Senior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil helped buoy the Hoosiers with 19 points, while sophomore guard Yarden Garzon added 12 points with six rebounds and five assists.

Since losing to Stanford on Nov. 12, the Hoosiers have now won 10 games in a row. 

Robyn Fralick’s Spartans keep on rolling

Facing a Penn State team that’s also started 2023-24 strong, Michigan State never let up Saturday in its 98-87 road win over the Lady Lions. Head coach Robyn Fralick’s team is now 11-2 and is averaging 92.5 points per game, the second-highest mark in the nation.

On Saturday, it was a highly balanced scoring effort: Sophomore guard Theryn Hallock led the way off the bench with 21 points, while graduate guard Julia Ayrault had 18, graduate guard/forward Tory Ozment had 13 and guards DeeDee Hagemann (junior), Abbey Kimball (sophomore) and Moira Joiner (graduate) all had 12. The box score mirrors what Fralick’s team at Bowling Green did last season, when she had five players average double figures in scoring.

The Spartans will face a huge test Tuesday against 13-1 Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Caitlin Clark slows upstart Minnesota

Few teams around the country have surprised more than Minnesota so far this year, but against Iowa on Saturday, senior guard Caitlin Clark proved to be too much, scoring 35 points and dishing out 10 assists in Iowa’s 94-71 win.

Hawkeye sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke turned in her fourth straight performance of at least 17 points, scoring 19 and securing eight rebounds in the win.

Minnesota sophomore guard Mara Braun, one of the top scorers of the country, was held to 15 points on 4-of-16 shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range. Braun is now averaging 19.8 points per game this season, still in the 99th percentile in the nation, per HerHoopStats.

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Notable games coming up this week:

  • Tuesday: Michigan State plays Iowa at 9 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Maryland plays Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Michigan plays Indiana at 7 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Purdue plays Maryland at 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Indiana plays Nebraska at 2 p.m. ET

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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