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Huskers Close Out Regular Season with Brutal Loss to No. 22 Indiana

February 27, 2020

The 22nd-ranked Hoosiers had 44 points on the board. The Huskers had 33. Sophomore wing Leigha Brown was standing underneath the Hoosier hoop holding her mouth in pain, IU guard Ali Patberg was flexing on the baseline.

Patberg had jumped a lazy pass from NU guard Sam Haiby at the other end, fended off a Haiby press at mid-court, and beaten Haiby to the edge on the right side of the floor. She drove at Brown near the rim, got the hoop and the harm.

Officials, though, while Patberg was filling up with emotion on Senior Day inside Assembly Hall for Indiana, were at the monitor looking at the guard’s off hand. It was determined she’d used her left arm to clear out space, making contact with Brown’s mouth. Patberg came back out following the official timeout to shoot her and-one attempt from the line, but because of an intentional foul called against her, Nebraska put point guard Hannah Whitish on the line at the other end for two free throws of its own.

Patberg missed her’s, Whitish made both of her’s, Nebraska got a bucket from forward Ashtyn Veerbeek on the ensuing possession, got a stop, then followed it with an off-the-dribble jumper from Whitish from the nail, and just like that a double-digit deficit was down to just five points for the Huskers.

With 1:27 to play in the third quarter, Nebraska trailed 44-39, the closest it had been to Indiana since midway through the first quarter.

From that point on, it was the Patberg show.

She went nuclear, her teammates fed off that energy, and Indiana ripped off a 29-6 run that began with two Patberg triples to close out the third and carried through the first six minutes of the fourth. The Hoosiers hit the Huskers with rapid-fire haymakers and it was over in an instant.

Nebraska, which finishes the season 17-12 (7-11 in the Big Ten), was looking at the wrong end of an 81-53 scoreboard when the final buzzer sounded.

Patberg, with one of her closest friends on the team going through her final game in Bloomington, had 15 during that run. She finished the game with 26 points (11-of-18 FG, 4-of-7 3P), five rebounds and four assists.

Nebraska had absolutely no answer for her. Sometimes the defense was passable—namely, when the Huskers went to a zone the Hoosiers have struggled to consistently beat this year—but Nebraska got beat off the dribble far too often.

Center Kate Cain was a nonfactor—no points, 0-of-7 shooting, three fouls, three turnovers—and it served to highlight one of the bigger issues of the game: Indiana’s on-fire scorer got help from her teammates to worsen the damage. Nebraska had a hot shooter of its own in Brown, but she got little in the way of help from anyone else.

Four IU players hit shots during that 29-6 run. For the game, four finished with at least 10 points and five others scored.

Patberg nearly outscored Nebraska’s starting five by herself. Whitish had 11, the only Husker aside from Brown to reach double figures. Sam Haiby and Ashtyn Veerbeek each had five on eight and six shots, respectively. Nicea Eliely had seven points on 3-of-15 shooting.

Brown was instant offense right from the moment she entered the game, with nine of Nebraska’s 13 in the first quarter to keep the team afloat, and 22 for the game. She only needed 12 shots thanks to 10 free throw attempts.

Everyone else shot 10-for-49 from the floor.

Indiana was playing for a guaranteed double-bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament, so chalking this fourth-quarter explosion up to that would be an easy thing to do, but Nebraska was playing for assurances, too.

With a win, the Huskers would have clinched rest on the opening day of the tournament. Instead, they find themselves tied with 11th-place Minnesota in the loss column. The Huskers and Gophers split the season series, so it’s more likely than not Nebraska stays in the No. 10 spot, but two wins from Minnesota in its final two games could make things interesting.

Much to think about. The regular season—one that began with 13 wins in the first 15 games—is now over and unless Nebraska wants its season to come to a screeching halt, it’ll need to use this next near-week to try and find out how to put together that elusive complete game.

Because, once again, it didn’t happen Thursday night. Nebraska looked to be back in it, then Patberg blasted that hope into the cold, Indiana night sky.

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