Heading into the 55th and final minute of Nebraska women’s basketball game against No. 20 Kansas, the Huskers were fighting just to stay in it.
The Huskers, having added three players into the lineup in the past few days, found themselves challenged on depth again late in triple overtime. Starting guard Allison Weidner exited in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, and center Alexis Markowski — one of the most impactful players in the contest — fouled out with under three minutes to go of the third extra period.
Nebraska had already lost the lead it held for most of the game and couldn’t convert on good opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and the second overtime. Now, it was tied again late, with depth cut short and three of the remaining players either working back from injury or in one of their first games with the team.
That trio, however, ended up making the winning plays. With just over a minute left, Kansas guard Zakiyah Franklin — who hit the most recent tying bucket and had 13 points since regulation ended — went right at Maggie Mendelson. The freshman center and dual-sport athlete playing her second game ever for the basketball team defended it well and grabbed the rebound.
On the other end, the ball found its way to Sam Haiby. The fifth-year guard was playing her third game of the year, still recovering from an offseason knee injury and not intended to play heavy minutes. Yet, in her 25th minute on the court, she drove to the basket before kicking it out to Isabelle Bourne in the corner for a 3-point attempt.
Bourne was making her return from an upper body injury that sidelined her for the previous three games. She made her first game back memorable, nailing the three to take the lead. Kansas airballed a 3-point attempt on the other end, and it landed in Haiby’s hands, allowing her to hit the two free throws that essentially sealed Nebraska’s 85-79 triple overtime victory against a previously undefeated Kansas team.
“In the third overtime, I was like, ‘It’s time to get this done,'” Bourne said postgame. “To hear the confidence of all my bench behind me and even just to get the ball in the corner from Sam, and get the get-go to shoot it was fun and exciting for me.”
In the final seconds, the fatigue seemed to show through. Haiby’s last shots from the line made it a five-point game with 22 seconds left, but after Kansas missed a quick 3-point attempt, players didn’t bother to foul as the Huskers dribbled down the court. Mendelson eventually drew enough contact to take one last trip to the line before the end of a game where three players on each team played over 40 minutes.
“I’m tired right now,” Husker head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “I feel fatigued, almost like I actually played in the game.”
It’s an understandable feeling, not only due to the pure length of the game, but also the style. Nebraska led an undefeated ranked team by eight points at halftime, and was tasked with trying to hold onto that advantage through the remainder of the contest. The Jayhawks and Huskers came into the game both having found recent defensive success, and regulation ended with the teams tied at 60 points. The first overtime featured four total points, and only one made basket.
The two players who scored double digits in the extra periods alone — Franklin and Jaz Shelley — didn’t do so through offensive explosions. They both shot under 50% after the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded, and were the main feature of two teams scratching and clawing for an advantage that wouldn’t be instantly wiped away.
Shelley, a player who can often rip off shorter bursts of points, came out as the marathon’s top star. She had 24 points, all but two coming after halftime, also adding six rebounds and six assists. Williams called the performance “vintage Jaz” postgame, praising her versatility and decision-making.
As evidenced by the final stretch, many more players made plays over the course of the win. Markowski recorded her sixth double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Haiby and Bourne both ended up with double-digit points. Mendelson had nine points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Nine of the 10 players who saw the floor put up points.
Williams had no update on Weidner postgame. The guard pulled off a chasedown block early in the fourth quarter, but then went crashing into a cameraman on the baseline. She was helped off the floor before eventually returning to sit behind the bench.
The head coach said the team was even more inspired to pull out the victory after her exit, saying “for Allison” in huddles late in the game. If she misses any future games, she’ll be the third Husker starter to do so this season. That doesn’t count Haiby either, who is yet to start this season while still recovering but has been a starter for most of her career.
While the team wants Weidner and everyone else healthy, they’ve been happy with how they’ve been able to adapt.
“We’ve had people out, people in, different rotations, we’ve had tough games, we’ve had lots of different things thrown at us,” Bourne said. “The way we’ve come together these last couple of games, you can just kind of see that we’re starting to get on a roll in the way we’re playing together.”
Nebraska’s now on a five-game win streak which includes two victories over ranked opponents. That’s an improvement from the double-digit losses the Huskers took to ranked teams in Creighton and Virginia Tech, along with an unranked Drake squad.
The team has a week off now, but will return to more challenges as Big Ten play gets fully underway. Nebraska’s next two matchups will be against No. 19 Michigan and No. 4 Indiana. This victory will continue the team’s momentum heading into those tests.
“It’s a great confidence booster,” Shelley said. “We can’t dwell on this too much because we have Michigan coming up after the Christmas break, and I know everyone’s going to go home and rest their bodies and we’re right back into it when we get back.”