Before this 2018-19 season began, head coach Amy Williams was worried about rebounding. It was an Achilles heel of her team last season, when a veteran-laden group won 21 games but lost its final two games — first in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal and then in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — thanks in part to a minus-30 rebounding margin.
Nebraska made progress this season, but for long stretches, it was still beaten inside by more forceful teams.
And that was the blueprint for 11th-seeded Purdue on Day 2 of the 2019 Big Ten Tournament Thursday night. The sixth-seeded Huskers swept the Boilermakers during the regular season, but were out-muscled inside in the third meeting and fell 75-71. This season will end much like last season.
Purdue got 13 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks from center Ae'Rianna Harris, who set the tone from the jump and controlled the paint on both ends of the floor. Her frontcourt partner, Tamara Farquhar, added 15 rebounds. Purdue won the boards 44-36, with its two bigs out-rebounding Nebraska’s starting five 29-15. Dominique Oden led the way offensively with 20 points.
Nebraska put four in double figures, as sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger hit five 3s for 15 points, freshman guard Sam Haiby scored 12 on 13 shots, freshman forward Leigha Brown scored 11 on eight shots and sophomore center Kate Cain added 10. The offense sputtered for stretches — Nebraska shot 38 percent from the field — as starting point guard Hannah Whitish struggled to find any sort of groove.
Purdue opened things up with a 15-0 run over a five-minute stretch between the first and second quarters, took a 10-point lead into the halftime break and then extended that advantage to 13 with a buzzer-beating triple to end the third quarter.
Nebraska, like it has done often this season, made a fourth-quarter rally though.
Kissinger’s fifth and final triple came with 2:53 to play and brought the Huskers within four points. A minute later, Whitish took a ball screen on the wing, Purdue went under and Whitish splashed another triple, capping an 11-1 run over a span of two minutes and cutting the margin to just one point.
But Purdue answered with back-to-back buckets inside from Oden and then Harris to push the lead back to five at 73-68 with 47 seconds, effectively ending the game.
In a school-record 14th game decided by two possessions or fewer, the Huskers fell to 4-10. Overall on the season, Nebraska will finish at 14-16. But with only one senior departing, forward Maddie Simon, and every other rotational piece returning after having gone through the wringer in 2018, the future still looks bright in Lincoln.
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.