With 2 seconds left on the shot clock and the Huskers dominating Purdue late in the fourth quarter, freshman Kate Cain curled baseline as Nebraska ran an inbounds play it hadn’t used all season. Cain caught and fired up a jumper that splashed through for a 20-point lead.
As the buzzer sounded and she turned to head down the court, she flashed the signature Jordan shrug. That kind of night.
“It was just a really good game, we played as a team today,” sophomore guard Nicea Eliely, who finished with a team-high 13 points, said postgame. “We played really well together and moved the ball and that was something we’ve been working on, sideline out-of-bounds plays, and that was just one that we executed really well.”
One of many. Nebraska (15-6, 6-2 Big Ten) pounded a short-handed Purdue (13-8, 4-3 Big Ten) squad in the second half, perhaps exorcising some past demons, en route to a 75-51 win. The Huskers, under second-year coach Amy Williams, are far from the team Purdue dispatched 88-45 in West Lafayette last season and Boilermaker coach Sharon Versyp told Williams as much before they even tipped off.
“[Williams]’s has done a fabulous job, the kids have bought in and they have great team chemistry,” Versyp said. “When you start winning and understanding a system, that just builds confidence.”
And they played with plenty of confidence Wednesday night. Eliely said the Huskers “wanted to take it to” Purdue given what happened last season, and the emphasis was on the other side of the ball. With the help of a few early fouls on two Purdue starters, Nebraska had the Boilermakers out of their comfort zone by the end of the first quarter. Purdue was 3-of-12 shooting in the second frame and piled up 12 turnovers by halftime.
They finished with more cough-ups (21) than made baskets (19).
Versyp credited the Nebraska defense, but said some of their turnovers were “outlandish” and things they haven't done recently. Even then, credit the defense for forcing that level of discomfort.
“I just thought that sometimes when you play as many players as we do, it’s hard to keep everybody locked in on our game plan,” Williams said. “But, I thought everybody today had incredible focus from shootaround to the final buzzer on just doing what it was that we wanted to do to try and take them away from the things they really like to look for.”
Playing deep into the bench is something Williams referred to as “always the preference,” but it wasn't just the preference, it was the reality. Twelve played, 12 scored and no one topped 30 minutes of court time.
“I really feel like the fact that we didn’t have any starters have to go over 30 minutes tonight was able to keep everybody really fresh and energized and then that way we can continue to push on the gas,” Williams said.
Perhaps it was fresh legs for Nebraska or tired legs for a Purdue outfit that only played seven-deep until garbage time, but the Huskers took control in the second half. They had 29 points on 33 percent shooting at the intermission but popped off 46 on 60 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes.
Williams said they discussed a few adjustments to make — like opening the second half with a stronger urge to get Cain paint touches down low — but overall, she felt like her team just got comfortable on offense and found its spots better as the game wore on. On a night they shared the spotlight with the men, the women outscored them by 15 points. Williams was really pleased with not just the outcome, but the product she saw on the floor.
“I told our team in the locker room after the game that this was probably the best overall team, complete win that we’ve had so far this season,” Williams said. “People have been talking and taking note that it feels like this team just doesn’t really care who gets credit and doesn’t really care who’s doing the scoring, just everybody find ways to help contribute.”
Ten of 12 Nebraska players took more than one shot and eight registered an assist. Williams said she liked the scoring, but appreciated the other things just as much. Like when sophomore forward Grace Mitchell snagged an offensive board and kicked it to senior Emily Wood for a corner three.
Senior Janay Morton was asked about her contributions to the win — six points, four assists, a plus-18 rating on the court — and responded in a way that no-doubt had Williams smiling.
"I did what I had to do for my team with the minutes that I got," she said. Seemed like a common theme.
The win marked the Huskers’ third straight over an RPI top-50 team, third straight overall and sixth in their last seven games. Five of their six losses to begin the season have come at home, making this one feel that much more special.
“We’re proud of the fact we’ve been road warriors but we’ve been wanting to have a good showing here for Husker Nation,” Williams said. “To put together a complete game for our Husker fans, it’s rewarding for our fanbase, it’s rewarding for our players and it’s rewarding for our staff as well.”
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.