Exactly two weeks ago Thursday, Nebraska went on the road to face Illinois, having lost three in a row. Head coach Amy Williams elected to change up her starting lineup, swapping senior stretch forward Maddie Simon for freshman defender Kayla Mershon. It worked and Nebraska rolled to a 77-67 win.
That move prompted some to wonder why Williams wasn’t replacing other vets in the starting five with freshmen off the bench. Guard Sam Haiby was the team’s leading scorer at the time and starting point Hannah Whitish was struggling to find her shot. Leigha Brown would later take over the “leading scorer” role. Forward Ashtyn Veerbeek provided the antithesis to center Kate Cain.
But Williams stuck with the women who knew her system best. Whitish has been the starting point all season. On Thursday, she gave a reminder of why.
The freshmen were great again off the bench, but Whitish put on a 28-point, 12-assist performance that featured six made triples and only one turnover as the Huskers dominated Purdue (17-6, 6-4 Big Ten) on the road, 84-64.
A third-quarter explosion in which Nebraska outscored the Boilermakers 26-15 saw Whitish pour in 10 of her game-high 28. She hit 3s, played stout defense and ran the offense as well as she has at any point this season, with a hand in seven of Nebraska’s 11 made buckets. The Huskers, now 10-11 (5-5 Big Ten) on the season, had things signed, sealed and awaiting delivery by the end of the third against a Purdue squad that entered the night 11-1 at home.
The 28 points was one off a career-high for Whitish, but the six triples tied a personal best and the 12 assists set a new high. She hadn’t scored more than 15 points in a single game this season, but, as the saying goes, when you’re hot, you’re hot.
Haiby was hot, too, scoring 13 points off the bench on 3-of-4 shooting from deep. She entered the day shooting 23 percent from distance yet connected on a buzzer-beater from halfcourt to end the third quarter.
Veerbeek bounced back from a zero-point, one-rebound game her last time out (she fouled out in eight minutes) and put up 14 points and nine boards in 22 minutes. Brown added seven and junior guard Nicea Eliely scored 12 for the second consecutive game.
All that to say: everything was working for the Huskers.
Cain’s two points and seven rebounds look unimpactful in the box score, but she had as much to do with the defensive start and the tone being set early on as anyone. She had two blocks and four boards in just four minutes of action in the first quarter. NU outscored the Boilermakers by 21 points in 17 minutes with Simon on the court.
In more ways than one, it felt similar to the Illinois game on Jan. 17. The Huskers started strong out of the gates in that one and did so again Thursday night, building an 18-6 lead after the first quarter.
Whitish started the scoring with a 3, ended the quarter with a 3 and saw her teammates absolutely lock down Purdue’s offense in between. The Boilermakers shot 17 percent (3-for-18 shooting) and their two leading scorers — guards Karissa McLaughlin and Dominique Oden, who combine for 31 a night — were held scoreless.
They eventually got theirs, with Oden going for 18 and McLaughlin adding 13, but shots didn’t start falling with consistency until Purdue was already out of it. And the Boilermakers’ usual advantage on the glass was nowhere to be found. Nebraska controlled the battle of the boards, 41-25.
A second-quarter run was really all Purdue had in them. Nebraska stretched its lead up to 18 early, but a 19-4 run from the Boilermakers had them within three with 1:27 to play. Nebraska kept its composure, took a punch and countered. The Huskers scored the final five points with a three-ball coming from Whitish.
See? She was everywhere and everything for the Huskers.
Nebraska is back in action Sunday against Indiana from Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’ll be a matinee kinda of day with tip set for 2 p.m. CT. The Hoosiers are 16-6 (5-4 Big Ten) but will come into the game losers of two in a row.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.