Photo Credit: John Peterson

Nebraska Beats Missouri State 74-65 in First Round of WNIT

March 15, 2023

Missouri State hung around for all 40 minutes, but Nebraska women’s basketball never lost control.

The Huskers led for over 37 minutes in their first round WNIT win over the Bears, including the entire second half. They trailed for 34 seconds, losing the lead once in each of the first two quarters before taking it back on the next possession. The opponent’s 23 offensive boards helped keep the game close until the end, but that’s all Missouri State managed to accomplish.

Behind a season-high 25 points from fifth-year guard Sam Haiby and strong defense, the Huskers won 74-65 to keep their season alive.

“Awesome to win and survive and advance this time of year,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “I thought just an outstanding gritty performance from Sam Haiby, we knew this team coming in was going to be an outstanding rebounding team, we didn’t really take care of business on the boards like we would like to, but found a way to overcome that and come away with the victory.”

The start of the game wasn’t exactly in line with what one might’ve expected from these two teams. Nebraska, a team that has often relied on its 3-point shooting all season and is top 25 in the country in attempts per game from deep, scored all of its first 15 points by getting in the paint. Haiby scored seven of those points, while the other eight came from the frontcourt trio of Alexis Markowski, Isabelle Bourne and Annika Stewart.

On the other side, Missouri State came into Pinnacle Bank Arena as the worst 3-point shooting team in its conference. Still, the Bears scored 12 of their first 13 points by shooting 4-for-5 from 3. Aniya Thomas made three of those.

“They were shooting it really well from behind the arc, I thought they did step behind a couple ball screens and knocked down some 3-point shots,” Williams said. “This time of year, there are very capable players that are playing with a lot of confidence. And so we had to make some adjustments early.”

After those four 3s in the first five minutes, Missouri State only made three more for the remainder of the game. Nebraska’s defense locked in, allowing the Huskers to finish the opening quarter on a 7-0 run and take a 22-15 lead. The Bears continued to fight back, hitting the offensive glass early in the second quarter and eventually dropping in another three to take a 32-30 advantage with 2:45 until the break.

In a near-repeat of the first quarter, Nebraska finished the first half on an 8-0 run to go up by six points. That stretch was capped off by a buzzer-beating halfcourt shot by Jaz Shelley. She was responsible for both Nebraska 3s in the half.

“I saw it out of her hand and it looked pretty good,” Haiby said. “Then it went in, and I’m like ‘Yeah, that’s Jaz, of course it’s going in.'”

Williams said she was more impressed by what came before it — blocks from Shelley and Markowski to force a shot-clock violation. That defensive momentum carried into the second half, as the Huskers had their best defensive quarter in the third. Missouri State put up five points on two made field goals in the first minute and three seconds of the period, then only added three free throws through the rest of it. Triples from Bourne and Shelley late in the quarter extended Nebraska’s lead to 10, the biggest it had been all game.

The final quarter was more of the same. Nebraska responded to every small push Missouri State made, and the Bears never got the difference closer than five points. Haiby played a big role in that, scoring nine points and making all of her seven free throw attempts in the quarter to help close it out.

Haiby’s 25 points marked her highest single-game scoring output since the 2020-21 season, and her first 20-point outing since last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga. Tonight’s performance came on 7-for-11 shooting, as she consistently got to the paint and to the free throw line.

“A huge goal of ours this game was to try and attack the lane, and either score in there or for kick-out shots,” Haiby said. “I was just trying to attack the paint and finishing and got to the free throw line.”

In Missouri State’s final game of the year, it received big performances from Thomas and Kennedy Taylor. The former finished with 17 points and five assists, while Taylor put up 21 points along with 14 rebounds. Nine of those boards came on the offensive end.

Now, Nebraska awaits the winner of tomorrow’s game between Colorado State and Northern Iowa. The second round stretches from Saturday to Monday, but the date, time and location for Nebraska’s next matchup is unknown.

“We’ll get together as a group and watch that Northern Iowa and Colorado State game and learn who our opponent will be and then we’ll go into full prep mode,” Williams said. “Whether that’s one or two days that we have to practice and get ready for that next opponent, we’ll look forward to that opportunity.”

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