Photo Credit: Eric Francis

As Huskers Head to Penn State, Playing 40 Minutes of Strong Basketball and Staying Consistent Is Key

February 16, 2022

There were plenty of firsts for the Husker women’s basketball team on Monday night.

The head-turning 17-point win over No. 5 Indiana was the program’s first victory over a top-5 opponent since Dec. 20, 2009, against LSU at the Devaney Center. Five Huskers scored in double figures against the Hoosiers, which was another first against a conference foe this season. It was also Nebraska’s second win over a top-10 opponent this season as Indiana joined the club that then-No. 8 Michigan was already in. OK, that last one wasn’t a first, but you get the gist.

Point is, the Huskers are on a roll. It’s something that the NCAA tournament committee will look at and be impressed with. Right now, ESPN’s Bracketology has Nebraska as a No. 7 seed playing No. 10 Missouri in Ames, Iowa.

“This is really something right now that people should take notice of,” head coach Amy Williams said. “Obviously, a couple wins over top-ten teams in the country is something I think will help build anybody’s résumé, but we feel like we are able to show that we can compete with the best teams in the country, and we want to keep doing that.”

Nebraska is currently 19-6 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten. Its final four games of the regular season are against Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern, which have a combined conference record of 18-36. Northwestern is the only team of the group that doesn’t have a losing record in Big Ten play, and the Wildcats are 6-6.

A 4-1 stretch to end the regular season would have been good. But after knocking off No. 5, a five-game winning streak and 12-6 conference record heading into the Big Ten tournament is a real possibility. While many outside of the program are looking ahead, the players and coaches won’t be. They understand to take things one day at a time, one game at a time.

But make no mistake about it—some of the veteran players saw this coming. Sam Haiby, a fourth-year Husker and second-team All-Big Ten selection from last year, was one.

“I think we all kind of had a little bit of a hunch that this was going to be a special year,” Haiby said after helping finish off the Hoosiers by scoring 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. “I think we definitely came out and proved ourselves in different places, but we’re tough to beat at home and I think we showed that tonight. When the fans are like they were tonight, it’s really fun. It’s been great so far.”

Indiana had major problems trying to stay in front of Haiby as she aggressively drove to the hoop in the fourth. She looked to have a certain no-one-can-guard-me mindset during that stretch, which helped start a massive 17-0 run that Indiana never recovered from.

For Nebraska to achieve its goals, one of which is to obviously make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018, Haiby will need to have more fourth quarters like the one she had Monday night. She can thank her roommate, Isabelle Bourne, for pushing her. The Huskers’ 6-foot-2 Australian forward, who, by the way, is starting to heat up offensively herself with five straight games of double-digit scoring, wanted to have a chat with Haiby once the last quarter started against Indiana.

“Issie looked me in the eye and said, ‘It’s the fourth quarter, it’s your time, it’s what you do best,'” Haiby said. “Just that encouragement from my teammates and my coaches. Keep attacking the paint, that’s what I pride myself in—don’t settle. Try to will them in the basket.”

To beat the top teams in the Big Ten, there needs to be 40 minutes of strong basketball. Not a quarter or two or three. Four full quarters. Other than the Michigan game, Jaz Shelley thought the team hadn’t done that. But she saw it Monday night against the best team in the conference.

“I really think that, even when Indiana came out and was scoring on us, we fought back on defense,” said Shelley, who scored 14 points, made three 3s and collected six rebounds and three steals, her most since the win over Purdue on Jan. 30. “We had a defensive mindset this game. We played forty minutes tonight, and it really shows when we play a full game, we’re at our best and we’re a really strong team.”

Now the focus is set on a road trip to State College, Pennsylvania, where the Nittany Lions are looking for payback after the Huskers handed them a 76-61 loss 13 days ago. While their 3-11 record won’t wow, Nebraska isn’t looking past anyone these days.

Williams wants to use the Indiana win and build on it. Penn State is the next opportunity to look like a team that just knocked off the No. 5 team in the country by nearly 20 points. Teams that pull that off also take care of business against others like Penn State, which are near the bottom of the conference.

Being consistent is key.

“That’s our next challenge, is to go on the road for our next ball game and try to back this up with an even better performance,” Williams said.

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