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Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Sam Haiby takes a jump shot against the Idaho State Bengals on December 6, 2020 at Pinnacle Bank
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers’ Furious Comeback Falls Just Short as Season Ends with 75-71 Loss

March 20, 2021

Traffic in the painted area led to an open corner. Colorado’s Frida Formann found the space, and her teammates found her. She rose and splashed her fourth triple of the game (18 points) to put Colorado up by 11 points, 68-57, with 3:00 to play. 

It looked like the nail in the coffin. 

It wasn’t. 

As Nebraska has made a habit of all year, it fought right to the bitter end. The Huskers eventually fell 75-71 to end their season, but a furious comeback attempt in the final three minutes made Colorado earn it. Nebraska came up just short, but head coach Amy Williams was once again proud of a team that has consistently overcome. 

“It wasn’t our best basketball game of the season and we didn’t shoot it particularly well—with the exception of maybe Anni (Stewart) and Mi’Cole (Cayton) coming in—but we continued to scratch and claw and fight all the way until the end,” Williams said after the game. 

“I think that, to me, is pretty tell-tale for this whole season. Last June when we were having our first Zooms and talking about culture traits and characteristics that we wanted this team to be known for and what people from the outside would say about us, one of the big things was we were going to be a team that was relentless and (would) fight and scratch and claw all the way until the end. I think that’s something we accomplished in this particular game and most of the season.”

Forward Bella Cravens—who had 10 points, eight boards, three assists, two blocks, and seven fouls drawn; one of her better games all year—got a 6-0 run started at the free throw line. She knocked down her fifth and sixth free throws of the game, then forced a tie-up on the ensuing inbounds pass. 

Nebraska, still with about two-and-a-half minutes on the clock, tried to fullcourt trap Colorado. “That’s not something we typically have done,” Williams said. But it forced a tie-up and then a turnover off the next inbounds. 

Sam Haiby was credited with the steal, and she quickly turned up to lay in an uncontested shot. Colorado, a little frazzled and sped up by Nebraska’s pressure, forced another pass trying to break the trap, and Haiby again poked it loose. Cayton secured the ball and dished it to an open Haiby under the hoop, who laid it up and in again. 

From down 11 to down five in 46 seconds of game clock. Colorado’s lead was trimmed to 68-63 with 2:14 to go. 

“I think it just gave us some energy and some excitement,” Williams said. “Sam really did a great job of anticipating. Mi’Cole was in there mixing things up. Issie (Bourne) was scrambling around. Bella was flying around. … it put us back into the game.”

Haiby nearly had another steal on the next defensive possession, poking the ball into the backcourt late in the shot clock. Colorado kept hold of it but was forced to heave a shot from halfcourt. It went crashing harmlessly into the backboard. Shot clock violation. Turnover. 

With 1:29 to play, Haiby got a really good look from 3 but just missed. 

That was sort of the story of the earlier parts of Saturday’s affair. Nebraska was able to get open looks, but it just didn’t connect on enough. 

In the first quarter, Nebraska shot 38.5%, in the second and third 37.5%. For the game, Nebraska was 7-for-27 shooting the 3-ball. Coming in, Nebraska had made at least a third of its 3s in each of the last seven games, including 40% or better in six of the seven. 

Colorado contributed to that. 

In the first half, Nebraska was a little lethargic moving the ball around. The gameplan coming in was to attack All-Pac-12 forward and CU leading scorer Nya Hollingshed at the rim and force her into foul trouble. 

“Don’t settle for inside-outside, don’t settle for kicking it back out or fadeaways,” Williams implored her team. “Go at her.”

In the second half, Colorado mixed in a 2-3 zone and stymied the Huskers. 

“Their zone was very aggressive, and I think the ball was sticking just a little too much,” Williams said. “We were a little late on some of our cuts. … I think it took us a little while before we kind of moved the ball the way we needed to to try and attack their zone.”

Nebraska’s shooters were uncharacteristically cold. Guard Ashley Scoggin was 0-for-6 from deep. After a 4-for-7 performance from beyond the arc on Friday, guard Whitney Brown was 0-for-3.

Haiby only took two shots in Nebraska’s opening-round win, and it needed her to light the fire. With a pair of steals, she did exactly that. (Haiby would finish with a game-high 20 points to go with six rebounds and four assists.)

A split at the free throw line from Colorado put the Husker deficit at six points. Haiby handled the next possession, drew the attention to her, then dished to Cayton on the wing, who fired a 3 up and in. 

Three point game.

Colorado called time with 59 seconds showing on the game clock. 

An immediate foul on Scoggin coming out of the timeout put Colorado at the free throw line, where it converted both. On NU’s next possession, Cayton drove baseline through contact and a whistle, laying a shot up and in, but it was waved off. She stepped to the line with 37 seconds left and drew iron on both of her attempts. 

Call that the last gasp. Colorado made its free throws down the stretch to walk away with the win and advance to Monday’s regional final. Nebraska (13-13 on the year) calls it a season. 

“It was pretty emotional,” Williams said of the locker room after the game. “A lot of players that feel like this is a great group that certainly did not want this season to end.”

Williams let them talk first.

There were a lot of players already talking about being excited for next year,” she said. “When you’ve been through everything we’ve been through—the grind of daily testing and just all of the curveballs and ups and downs and highs and lows and injuries and COVID breaks and disappointments with games being canceled 45 minutes before Senior day. 

“We’ve been through a lot, and for the kids to already be talking about their excitement for next year and the work they want to put in between now and then, I think that’s a pretty special thing.”

Senior center Kate Cain might return for another year. She’ll have that option, and a decision now squarely on her plate. Nebraska will hope to make it through an offseason without the kind of attrition that made the last one grueling. 

As the season wound down, this team felt like it was gelling, perhaps even peaking. 

“This is a team that everybody loves to play with and that’s what makes it so special,” Williams said.

“I just told the girls I’m proud of the way they’ve carried themselves with class and grace. I think we’ve moved the program forward and there’s a new mission on hand.”

They want to finish these kinds of games off. Losing another one late is a tough blow in a season filled with them, but, as Williams says—they will just keep coming.

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