Nebraska probably doesn’t win that one a year ago. Maybe. Who knows, actually. Head coach Amy Williams certainly wasn’t thinking about the record 10 games her team lost last season when the margin ended six points or smaller. And she absolutely wasn’t going to say anything to her team about it.
“But, when you reflect back afterward, I think it does show growth,” Williams said Wednesday night. “It shows some of the things we’ve been talking about all offseason, trying to do a little bit better to be able to get over the hump. It’s paying off.”
Nebraska turned it over up just two points with 10 seconds left, an errant pass while trying to inbound the ball from just in front of the Nebraska bench. Too many late-game errors cost a young Nebraska team last season, errors just like the one late Wednesday. But this one didn’t. Nebraska matched a turnover with a turnover at the other end, switching on a Duke drive, stonewalling forward Leaonna Odom while she was sitting on a game-high 20 points and forcing a travel while Odom tried to think of a backup plan.
Nebraska hit its free throws (and seven straight over the final 1:05) and walked out of Pinnacle Bank Arena with a 83-79 win over Duke.
The Huskers are 8-1. The latest, over a now 6-3 Duke team, was the first B1G/ACC Challenge win for Big Red since 2015.
They’re also 2-1 now in two-possession games. Close ones are a coin flip, generally speaking. Last year it consistently went the other way for Williams and her Huskers, but this year . . . This year Nebraska is coming up on the right side.
“I think just the extra year of experience for everybody on this team,” said senior point guard Hannah Whitish. “We still have freshmen and freshmen playing big minutes but that experience has given us that extra step to win those kinds of games.”
Whitish hit the last four free throws.
A perfect game? Not really. Nebraska had 20 turnovers, six more than Duke. “We’ll work on that over the next 10 days,” Williams said with a grin. Duke doubled up on Nebraska in the paint, 52-26. And after rebounding seven of its first 12 misses, Nebraska went from the aggressor on the boards to the surrenderer, being beaten 23-16 in the second half by a crashing Duke squad.
But Williams was able to mix and match defensive schemes to a pretty good degree of effectiveness. She got big fourth-quarter minutes from freshman forward Isabelle Bourne. She got the ball movement she wants and, when it counted, the stops she needs.
“I think we can grow from it,” said forward Taylor Kissinger afterward.
Kissinger had 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc to fuel an offense that hit 12-of-27 from deep. She had teammates jumping out of their seats every time she caught the ball with a sliver of space in front of her and then heard about their disappointment every time she didn’t fire away.
She probably would have made it if she shot; she made seemingly everything against the Blue Devils. But she didn’t have to shoot if she wasn’t completely open, she’s fine moving the ball. About that ball movement? Nebraska put four in double-figures scoring. More importantly, perhaps: the Huskers got 23 assists on 28 made baskets.
“I love that,” Williams said. “That’s something we really touched on in the locker room. Twenty-three assists on 28 made baskets. … That’s sharing the basketball, that’s really moving the basketball and letting things work for us together as a team. That’s what I like to see.”
The Huskers talked about representing the Big Ten well. They talked about getting another signature win on their home court over the Duke freaking Blue Devils. Nebraska wanted it.
“Certainly felt like there were some opportunities where we could have gone up and stretched the lead and not had to have such a close finish but in the grand scheme of things, this is a very good win against a quality team,” Williams said.
And Nebraska is looking to stack those. Kissinger’s “we can grow” comment came in response to one of those “what can a win like this do for you” questions.
The Huskers have 10 days off now. On Dec. 14, they’ll host Oral Roberts for a 1 p.m. CT tip. They’re looking to continue the best start for the program since 2014.
That group started 10-1, with the 10th win coming by six points over Duke at home in the B1G/ACC Challenge on the first Wednesday of December. That team went 21-11 and made the NCAA Tournament.
This Nebraska group, armed with all that pain from last season, has similar aspirations.
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.