Nebraska needed a bounce-back kind of showing against Michigan at home Sunday afternoon.
Losers of two straight road games to two of the best the Big Ten has to offer, the Huskers status among the top-of-the-table teams in a congested league was looking shaky. A win over a Michigan team that entered the day 12-5 on the year with the same conference record as Nebraska would go a long way toward righting the Husker ship.
Michigan looked like it was going to run away with things as the second quarter moved along and the Huskers went scoreless over the final 5:07 of the first half. The third quarter saw the Wolverines stretch their lead to 13, but Nebraska fought back.
It entered the fourth and final quarter trailing and left with a 74-71 win. The Huskers are now 14-4 on the year.
“We know that we’re a winning team, and getting back in the win column was huge today,” point guard Hannah Whitish said after.
Nebraska looked to force the issue inside early, feeding center Kate Cain for two buckets in the game’s opening minutes. Cain had scored zero points in her previous two outings and the Huskers had felt her absence. But Michigan blending a high-pressure man coverage with a 2-3 zone kept Nebraska out of rhythm for long stretches.
NU shot 38% in the opening half and turned it over six times. Whitish had 11 points and fellow backcourt starter Sam Haiby had 10 and no one else had much of anything.
In the opening minutes of the third, Michigan used a 7-0 run that threatened to blow the game open and drew an Amy Williams timeout.
“We had a pretty extensive discussion in that timeout there early in the third quarter about just needing to change our energy and finding ways to step outside of [themselves],” she said. “I think we were getting a little bogged down with some things, mistakes we were making individually or things that weren’t quite going well for us, and we found a way to shift that and pour into our teammates and be an energy giver. That really changed things and turned things around for us.”
Nebraska closed the quarter on a 20-8 run.
Whitish drilled a triple. Then reserve wing Leigha Brown, who struggled with her shot all night long, started to put her head down and attack, rewarding the NU offense with a pair of free throws and an and-one conversion minutes after. Nicea Eliely hit a triple, Haiby used a gorgeous double crossover to stop and pop for a midrange jumper. Cain added a bucket and freshman forward Isabelle Bourne added free throws with 34 seconds in the third.
Haiby then set up Whitish for a triple at the buzzer to bring NU within one.
Nebraska scored the first five points of the fourth and never looked back. Free throws down the stretch sealed the win. (Five of them came from Brown, who finished with 10, one of four Huskers in double-figures.)
Whitish hit six of her eight triples and scored a game-high 20 points. “She’s had some really good games as a Husker, I think today was definitely one of those,” Williams said. Haiby supplied 18 points of her own on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc. Eliely had 11 to round out the attack, no shot bigger than the corner 3 she hit with 1:15 remaining in the game to put Nebraska up seven.
When the Huskers went from a paint-focused attack to a Whitish-Haiby-powered perimeter game, Michigan was left to pick up the pieces. The Huskers’ 12 made 3s—on 24 shots mind you—tied their season high. Whitish and Haiby led the way, but everyone made key plays.
Asked how many key 3s she thought her group hit, Williams joked “about 12 of them.” In a three-point win, every single one of them was key. Michigan made Nebraska earn it late, thanks to 8-of-14 shooting from deep and 16 offensive rebounds, but Nebraska just kept answering.
“The thing I’m most proud of is their ability to not quit,” Williams said. “To shift that mindset and to be able to step outside of themselves and pour into their teammates and that kind of stick-to-itivness and that resiliency. I thought Nicea really bounced back and I’m proud of that. Leigha Brown didn’t have her best shooting night”—she was 1-for-8—“but then found ways to, I thought, take a very mature approach to it and attack the basket and find ways to get herself to the free throw line.
“This was a good, big win for our team. We needed to get back on the winning ways. This team takes a lot of pride in wanting to protect home court and play well for our fans. I don’t think it was a good, solid 40-minute display for our fanbase here, but we certainly found a way to be resilient and bounce back and I’m proud of that.”
Nebraska is now a near-perfect 11-1 at home. Purdue will try and crack The Vault next, but Nebraska feels it has its confidence back. It’ll get the chance to prove as much on Wednesday, Jan. 22, when the Boilermakers get to town. Tip is set for 7 p.m. CT.
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.