On Saturday afternoon, on the road at the Bryce Jordan Center in the regular-season finale, Nebraska led Penn State by 14 with 7:21 to go in the third quarter.
To that point, the Huskers had shot 54 percent from the field, drilled five of their nine shots from beyond the arc and effectively moved the ball on offense. Nine of the 10 women to see the floor in the first half scored. (Grace Mitchell was the only Husker without a point, but she wasn’t on the floor for more than a minute.) Nebraska was out-rebounding the Nittany Lions and playing stout defense.
But after a Kayla Mershon and-one conversion, the Nittany Lions flipped a switch. Shots started falling while Nebraska slipped into a cold spell (they went five minutes without a made shot in the third quarter). Penn State ripped off an 11-1 run in the third and tied the game at 57-all a minute into the fourth.
Then Sam Haiby took over.
The freshman combo guard scored 12 of her team-leading 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a 10-for-10 frame at the charity stripe and eight of Nebraska’s last 11 points, to fend off the Nittany Lions and seal a 79-74 win.
The 5-9 freshman point guard, after the game-tying triple from Penn State’s Tenyia Page, got herself going with a quick two at the rim after breaking the Nittany Lions’ full-court press. She then stole the ensuing inbounds pass, drove and drew a foul. After knocking down both free throws, Nebraska was back ahead by two possessions after just 21 seconds.
The Huskers led the rest of the way. Penn State got within two with just over five minutes to go before sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger splashed home her fourth 3 of the game (she finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting) to put NU back up five.
Each time the Nittany Lions broke off a run, the Huskers countered. In a lot of ways, it was unlike anything Nebraska has done this season. Head coach Amy Williams has pleaded with a young team for consistency all year. Nebraska has played in too many close games to count and either blows a lead late or does the storming back itself. This time, Nebraska simply matched its opponent blow for blow.
Fellow freshmen Ashtyn Veerbeek, Leigha Brown and Kayla Mershon all supplied eight points, while Veerbeek added a team-leading 10 boards. Sophomore center Kate Cain added eight points, seven rebounds, four blocks, three assists and a steal in one of her stronger performances of the season.
As a team, Nebraska shot 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep. The Huskers out-shot the Nittany Lions at the free throw line, out-classed them on the boards (39-33) and won the battle in the paint.
With the win, Nebraska (14-15 overall) finishes at 9-9 in conference play. Meaning the Huskers still have a shot at the No. 6 seed in next week's conference tournament in Indianapolis. Nebraska's seed, opponent and game time will be determined following Sunday's slate of Big Ten games.
The Huskers could be as high as No. 6 if 12th-ranked Iowa beats Northwestern and Minnesota beats Michigan State. Both teams Northwestern and Michigan State are on the road and, with a loss, would finish at 9-9. NU holds tiebreakers over each. If both Northwestern and Michigan State win, Nebraska will be the No. 8 seed. The Wildcats play at 3 p.m. CT on BTN. The Spartans play at the same time.
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.