Michigan was without its second-leading scorer on the season, meaning Nebraska would face the Wolverines without the added storyline of going up against the Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the Year in 2019, former Husker Leigha Brown.
The Wolverine offense certainly felt the effects of Brown’s absence—who sat because of COVID-19 protocols—and her 19.7 points per game; they shot just 32% from the floor and got made baskets from only four players.
But No. 15 Michigan, now 8-0, came away with a 64-62 win over Nebraska (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) because of what happened after it missed shots.
Forward Naz Hillmon had 35 points and 22 rebounds. Thirteen of her boards came from the offensive glass.
In total, Michigan rebounded 60% of its missed shots (30 of 50). The non-Hillmon Wolverines shot 9-of-51 from the field.
The Wolverines dominated the glass and had nearly as many offensive rebounds (30) as Nebraska had total rebounds (32). They had 40 paint points to show for the domination inside and 24 second-chance points, most of which came from Hillmon, who set a career-high for points on the day.
And yet Nebraska was within one possession at the end of the game.
Though the Huskers are now winless on the road this season (0-4), head coach Amy Williams can take solace in the fight her shorthanded group continues to show.
Nebraska was down nine points entering the fourth quarter after getting outscored by 10 in the third. Back-and-forth we went to begin the final frame, but Nebraska never made headway on the lead. With 4:29 to play, a bucket from Michigan guard Akienreh Johnson gave UM an 11-point lead.
Then a 9-0 Nebraska run.
First it was five quick points from forward Issie Bourne. (She finished with nine points on 13 shots, a relative struggle for her given the start to the season. Playing the 3 because of injuries in NU’s backcourt, Bourne has either had a size advantage on her defender or an athletic one. Michigan’s length gave no such advantages and bothered NU offensively.)
Then it was a Michigan turnover and Nebraska runout from guard Sam Haiby that got NU to within four points with 1:40 to play.
Haiby was remarkable in this one, scoring 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting, consistently finding creases to attack the interior of Michigan’s defense and finish in traffic. It marked the second time this season the junior has topped 20 points in a game.
Then it was a free-throw-line jumper from forward Bella Cravens that got Nebraska to within two points with 1:00 to play, prompting a Michigan timeout.
Nebraska needed a stop and a rebound to have a shot. NU had committed one foul in the fourth quarter to that point, so getting into the free throw game with under a minute to play would bleed precious seconds off the clock while trying to foul into the bonus.
Michigan’s Hailey Brown missed from 3, and who else but Hillmon was there to clean it up. A board and a putback under the basket gave Michigan back it’s two-possession cushion with 38 seconds to play.
With 15 seconds to play, Nebraska got another bucket from Haiby to bring it back to two, but killed the next six seconds of clock fouling to get into the bonus. Michigan hit two free throws with nine seconds remaining and that was that.
What might have happened if Brown was available for the Wolverines? Nebraska would have certainly liked to find out. The junior left the Huskers in the offseason, citing a desire to be closer to home. A native of Auburn, Indiana, Brown landed just two hours away from her home, but at a Big Ten foe.
If Nebraska gets another shot at the Wolverines, it’ll have to come in the Big Ten Tournament. The two met in last season’s second round of the tourney and Michigan came away with an 81-75 win. Rebounding was a sore spot there, too.
It’ll need to be addressed going forward.
Nebraska will be back in the state of Michigan on Sunday when it faces No. 23 Michigan State (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten), a team that is winning the rebounding margin by five a game this season. Tip in that one is set for 2 p.m. CT on BTN’s subscription service BTN+.