Northwestern—the ranked side and the home side—had 24 fewer turnovers and 27 more shot attempts. It had a nine-point lead when play began in the second half, but it felt like the Huskers were lucky to be even that close after the first 20 minutes.
“I can hardly believe that,” Husker basketball coach Amy Williams said after the game.
For the fourth time this season, and the second against Northwestern, the Huskers pulled off an upset of a ranked opponent. In beating the 24th-ranked Wildcats 71-64 Wednesday night, Nebraska paired a return to defensive form with two remarkable individual offensive performances from its frontcourt starters.
Senior center Kate Cain scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds, registered three assists, and blocked two shots. She was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. In the process, she became the 34th player in program history to score 1,000 career points.
Sophomore forward Issie Bourne scored 21 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, registered two assists, blocked two shots, and picked up a steal just to ensure no zeros on her line of the box score. She was 6-for-13 from the field (2-for-2 beyond the arc) and took 10 shots at the free throw line.
Williams kept freshman wing Ruby Porter in the starting five Wednesday night for the second straight game. Probably out of necessity—junior forward Bella Cravens missed the game—but maybe Williams has found something in the last two outings.
At the beginning of the season, Bourne was the team’s starting four. When injuries ravaged Nebraska’s guard rotation, Cravens entered the starting five and Bourne slid out to the wing. She played fine, but Nebraska created offense in the preseason off Bourne’s post prowess.
Simply put, she’s really good down there.
With Cravens hobbled the last time out and unavailable Wednesday night, Porter filled in on the wing and Bourne shifted back to the four. She looked much more comfortable initially, and then against the Wildcats looked completely unstoppable.
When she and Cain both got rolling in the second half, Northwestern had no answer.
At the end of the first quarter, Nebraska had nine points on nine shots. It had 11 turnovers. Not what you want to see. Northwestern jumped out to a 10-point lead and got Nebraska out of its sets. The turnovers subsided (somewhat) in the second quarter, but Nebraska missed on 12 of its 16 attempts.
When the third quarter opened, Nebraska played inside-out. Cain got post touches and buckets on two of Nebraska’s first three possessions.
A 9-2 run to open the frame erased the deficit.
Nebraska had it tied with 1:29 to play in the third, then took the lead for good with a 15-2 run to begin the fourth.
Just a minute in, and coming on the heels of a second-chance possession that ended in a Cain make at the rim, Cain got an entry pass from the left corner, drew a double team, and then kicked it to Bourne at the top of the arc. She faked a pass to divert the closing defender and fired up a triple.
Sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin came down off a Northwestern miss and buried a left-wing wing 3 to give Nebraska a four-point lead and draw a Northwestern timeout. It was all uphill through the game’s first 20 minutes. Nebraska flipped the script.
Northwestern, not known for its 3-point shooting, was 4-for-20. Wildcat guard Lindsey Pulliam had 22 points on 24 shots. NU out-rebounded Northwestern 52-33 with Bourne and Cain (25 boards combined) nearly beating the entire opposing team by themselves.
“Defensive stops are what’s dug us back (in it),” Williams reminded her team during timeouts.
Nebraska has really enjoyed the defensive paint pairing that Cravens and Cain created once the former entered the starting five. Cain could roam a little more, reach a little more for borderline blocks, extend a little farther in help, knowing that Cravens was behind her and could clean up the glass even if she was out of position.
Bourne did well making up for that loss.
“I thought she played great defensively,” Williams said.
“For (Pulliam) to come out and score 22 points, that’s almost a given it feels like, but we wanted to make it as difficult as possible, and for Kate to equal Pulliam’s scoring on seven shots and it took 24 to get there, I think we accomplished that goal.”
Northwestern certainly made Nebraska earn it late, with Pulliam providing a bucket and then a pair of free throws that cut the margin to four both times, but NU did just that. For the game, it shot 22-fo-26 from the free throw line. (Bourne and Cain were 15-for-18.)
Nebraska had lost four straight, but that slide is now over. Northwestern will be happy to not have to see the Huskers again. When these two met last time, a New Year’s Eve game in Lincoln, the Huskers broke a three-game slide with a two-point upset win.
That one featured a 19-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance from lead guard Sam Haiby, who hit the game-winner just before the buzzer sounded.
Nebraska largely won this one without Haiby. The junior had five points on 1-for-12 shooting. Though she added eight boards and seven assists, she also had eight turnovers and turned in the worst shooting performance of her season so far.
But Haiby will likely bounce back. Great scorers often do. This game will feel odd in more ways than one.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like that, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been part of a game where we had 28 turnovers and still were even within 10 points or so,” Williams said. “I think that’s just a credit (to the team). We played smart to personnel and our defensive gameplan and rebounded.”
Nebraska will play again on Sunday, when it hosts Penn State (8-9, 5-8 Big Ten) at 2 p.m. CT on BTN+. The Huskers lost to the Nittany Lions 85-74 on the road on Feb. 4.