Nebraska had lost four straight and seven of its last nine games. Penn State had one win in 13 tries in Big Ten play. Something was going to break one way or the other. Husker coach Amy Williams said she felt her team’s confidence, or lack thereof, wasn’t an issue of late, just that they weren’t getting over the hump for a litany of reasons.
One of the most important being the continued search for a full 40-minute, four-quarter game and the continued coming up short in that quest.
“I won’t give us 40 yet,” Williams said late Thursday night, “but it was closer. We didn’t have any of those quarters that stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Usually, that’s the third quarter. For Nebraska on this night, the third quarter stuck out for the opposite reason. Nebraska set a season-high for points in a quarter (26) shot the lights out (78.6%, 11-of-14). It set the tone for a near-dominant second half and gave Nebraska its first win of the month, 75-58.
The losing streak is over. Nebraska now stands at 16-9 on the year and 6-8 in conference play.
“I think we were just flying around and sharing the ball,” said sophomore guard Sam Haiby. “We played really good team basketball today, so I think that led to a lot of easy buckets in transition, and then just making the extra pass to get a good shot.”
“I thought we were playing a little bit with pace,” added Williams. “We found some open passes. That pass from Leigha [Brown] to Nicea [Eliely] over the top, just easy baskets in transition where we were really pushing. … Some good team basketball, just getting good shots for our team. That third quarter was a really efficient quarter for us.”
At one point Nebraska hit nine straight shots. It hit 11 of its final 13 in the quarter. And that was after an 8-0 run that closed out the first half.
Brown, a sophomore wing off the bench, paced the Huskers with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. She had seven in the third. She flashed just about every part of her offensive repertoire. A backdoor cut for an open layup, a few mid-range pull-ups, an off-the-dribble 3. Brown got hot, so Nebraska fed her.
The offense usually goes by-committee, but when someone has the hot hand, Williams has no issues riding that individual scoring. “Let her do her thing,” Haiby said. Brown’s 13.5 points per game this season leads all Nebraska players, and she does it off the bench, and she does that with no issues.
“It’s just incredibly valuable,” Williams said of Brown’s role, calling her the beast off the bench. “She’s seen the benefits of getting a feel sitting over there on the bench and as other teams’ guards start to fatigue she can come in and, wham, she’s fresh and she’s ready to go. I think she’s been an incredible sixth man for our team and in this league all season long.”
Early on, Penn State looked like it might give Nebraska more fits. Last time out, the Huskers fell in a 26-6 first-quarter hole against Indiana. The Nittany Lions at one point in the first Thursday night took a 20-13 lead.
Williams wasn’t pleased with the transition defense or the defensive communication. A Penn State calling card is pushing the pace, even after made shots. The Nittany Lions caught Nebraska napping after made buckets several times, and took advantage of lax pick-and-roll defense.
“In the first half there were some times we got confused with what our coverages were in transition,” Williams said. She took a timeout with just a minute remaining in the first quarter to stress that exact issue.
Things changed after halftime.
“I thought we really communicated well as a team to sure that up and correct that problem,” Williams said. “Much better effort with transition defense in the second half.”
Nebraska has just four games left in the regular season, three of them on the road, and two of those back-to-back in the span of three days. Nebraska needs to build off this.
“Our team has been confident knowing we can compete with everybody, but we just haven’t been getting over the hump,” Williams said. “To do that here tonight and get back on the winning ways is something we’re going to want to build on.”
Next up: a date with No. 19 Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CT on Sunday, Feb. 16.
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.