A season-high for 3s made helped power the Huskers to an 87-72 win over Penn State at home on Sunday.
“I felt like this was maybe our most complete game,” Husker head coach Amy Williams told her team in the locker room after the game.
Nebraska made 13 triples, on 24 attempts. Not only was it the highest-volume 3-point shooting day of the season (and fourth-most in program history), it was the most efficient day of the year. NU kept Penn State at arm’s length throughout the fourth quarter after using the 3-ball to break the game open in the second and third.
“I love that fact that I saw my team between the last game and this game really working hard on 3-point shooting,” Williams said. “Coming in outside of practice and taking a lot of extra shots, repetition. To see that pay off is fun to see.
“We did not lose sight of our gameplan, which was to really get paint touches in our quest to make 13 (triples), so I think that’s probably the best part of what we saw today.”
NU scored 55 points in the middle periods of the game. But even then, it really didn’t catch fire until the final four minutes of the second. The Nittany Lions and Huskers were exchanging buckets and swapping leads left and right through the first 15 minutes before forward Annika Stewart took matters into her own hands.
A 12-2 Husker surge to head into the halftime break was fueled by 10 Stewart points. She got a bucket in close, then back-to-back 3s, then a layup out on the fastbreak.
Nebraska went from down four to up six at halftime.
“I told Anni just what an incredible stretch she played right there, she really sparked us,” Williams said. “I told Sam (Haiby) when she came out of the game at 2:42 on the game clock, ‘You’re gonna get 40 seconds right here. Go get some water and get ready.’ But the way that group sustained and played … allowed me to give Sam a really good rest right there.
Back-and-forth play to begin the third gave way to Nebraska midway through when guard Ashley Scoggin hit a triple and then lead guard Sam Haiby hit one of her own 42 seconds later.
Suddenly it was Nebraska with a little bit of pep in its step. Both Scoggin and Haiby were hot from beyond the arc all day, but the tenor of the game seemed to change after Haiby’s second 3 of the game. A quick one-two punch put Penn State on its heels.
Nittany Lions coach Carolyn Kieger called time, saw forward Issie Bourne block a would-be layup attempt, and then huddled her group back up 30 seconds later. Penn State’s Makenna Marisa converted an and-one out of the second timeout, but from that point on, the Huskers ripped off a 16-6 run to close out the third,
Haiby hit her second 3 of the quarter and third of the game. Freshman wing Kendall Coley knocked down the first triple of her Husker career with 35 seconds to play. Guard Mi’Cole Cayton got her own triple to fall with six seconds left in the frame.
Nebraska looked in control and Penn State looked out of sorts, shooting under 40% from the field at that point. The lead was up to 16 points.
“Critical,” Williams said of that close.
In both quarters, when Nebraska really started opening up quality looks from beyond the arc, it was through inside-out basketball. It’s no secret Nebraska wants to play through center Kate Cain and forward Issie Bourne down in the post and then work the ball around as those two draw doubles or help attention.
Nebraska played to those strengths.
Cain had a rather quiet game, saddled with foul trouble, but still finished with 11 points, five boards, and five blocks. Bourne notched her third-straight double-double and second consecutive 20-point outing with 22 points (7-fo-13 shooting) and 11 rebounds.
“She looks comfortable, confident, and it’s awesome to see,” Williams said of Bourne.
With guard Ruby Porter moving into the starting five in recent games, Bourne has been able to move back to the four spot. She’d been playing on the wing out of necessity as Nebraska has, of and on this year, battled injuries in the backcourt, and she’s grown in her comfort out there on the perimeter, but she said she definitely prefers playing from the post.
The recent performances back that up.
Bourne led the team in scoring while Haiby and Scoggin each added 18 points. Williams thought it was Scoggin’s best game as a Husker to date, with the scoring a career-high and an additional five assists and four boards. Haiby shook off some shooting rust (4-of-5 from 3) and turned in a well-rounded performance, with eight boards and six assists.
It wasn’t just on the offensive end, though.
The last time these two met (Feb. 4), Nebraska lost by 11. Penn State forward Johnasia Cash was a major difference-maker in that contest. She finished with 27 points and 19 boards on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 8-of-13 from the free throw line.
Williams felt the tempo got away from her team during that first meeting. Penn State pushed, caught Nebraska without a set defense, and then exploited matchups.
“Isn’t it crazy she still scored 17 points and got to the free throw line 11 times and yet we felt like we did a much better job on her this time around?” Williams said. “I thought Kate and Anni and anybody that guarded her today just made her have to work for everything she got.
“One of Sammi’s steals was on a play where… One thing about Cash is she can catch it off the block and then she’s so dangerous, she can go right, she can go left, but there was a play early in the first half where she tried to face up and drive and Sammi dug it out and got a steal off of that drive and I think it made her a little less hesitant to settle for that kind of positioning and trying to take our bigs off the dribble.”
The win moves Nebraska to 11-9 on the season and 9-8 in Big Ten play. With three regular-season games remaining before the Big Ten tournament, Nebraska sits in ninth on the league table. But, both Iowa (8-6, seventh) and Michigan State (7-6) are within shouting distance. NU will play both.
But first, it’ll travel to Minnesota (7-11, 6-10 Big Ten) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, for a 6 p.m. CT tip-off against the Gophers.
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.