Kate Cain was the only player to take the podium after an 80-74 overtime loss to Ohio State Sunday afternoon.
“We need to bounce back,” she said. “We have so much talent on this team and we have so much ability and we just need to get back to playing how I know we can play.”
Maybe it was just the angle and the light hitting at just the right way, but it looked like the junior center was holding back some emotion. Nebraska was feeling it after the game. Cain, a junior who had hours earlier become Nebraska’s all-time leader in career blocked shots regardless of gender, was serving as the voice for a team a little shaken. Nebraska opened the 2019-20 season 13-2. It has lost five of its last seven games and now sits at 5-6 in Big Ten play.
“They’re pretty emotional,” head coach Amy Williams said of her locker room. “They feel like we’re a better team that what we’re showing and how we’re playing. That’s really tough to swallow. They’ve poured a lot into this and then to watch it slip away… Turnovers, stops, giving up offensive rebounds, things like that, those little things that you let slip away, they cost you games in the Big Ten.”
The individual statistical categories that have cost Nebraska games have varied—turnovers, rebounding, 3-point shooting—but there’s one thread running through each of these losses: a failure to put together a complete game.
That was on display, maybe to the most extreme degree of the season, Sunday against the Buckeyes.
“Probably one of the best halves of basketball that this team has played and then one of the worst halves of basketball that this team has played,” Williams said.
The inability to put together a full 40 minutes has Williams at a loss for words.
“I’m not really sure why we can’t put together four full quarters right now,” she said. “It’s just perplexing. We’re going to have to figure some things out.”
Nebraska was up 49-34 heading into halftime. NU shot 55% from the field in the first half, shared the ball and put three in double-figures scoring. It looked like Ohio State was going to get the final possession of the second quarter until point guard Hannah Whitish poked the ball loose on the left side of the floor.
She slowed the break down as she spotted guard Nicea Eliely coming up the right wing, open, spotting up for 3. Whitish swung to Eliely, who made the extra pass to guard Sam Haiby in the right corner, who immediately gave the ball right back to a cutting Eliely. As the defense collapsed, Eliely gave it right back to Whitish, who had spotted up from the left wing where the sequence began. Whitish splashed a 3 as the buzzer sounded.
Nebraska walked off to a standing ovation from the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd.
The final 25 minutes followed a completely different script.
With 1:19 to play in overtime, and Nebraska up 74-72, Cain caught a pass over the top of the defense on the left block. Instead of trying to draw contact and lay the ball up and in, she stopped and popped for a super short jumper off the glass.
She left it short.
Ohio State raced out in transition.
As a team, Nebraska missed 32 of its 38 shots in the second half and overtime. It was 9-of-27 on layups.
Credit Ohio State for tightening things up defensively after the halftime break—Buckeye coach Kevin McGuff especially liked the shift in his transition defense—but Nebraska made things too easy with missed bunnies and bad turnovers.
Nebraska was in its head.
“It was one of those things I knew I couldn’t miss it, and as I was shooting I knew I couldn’t miss it, and then I missed it,” Cain said. “I think a lot of it starts to get (mental), especially in close games like that and you know these shots matter.”
The missed shots weren’t the whole story though. Nebraska went 4-for-28 in the second half and the Buckeyes still needed overtime to win. Williams will never get mad over missed shots.
“Turnovers are something to get mad about,” she said, of which Nebraska had 18. “Missed box-outs are something to get mad about. Missed defensive assignments where you’re trying to force them to use a ball screen and you let them reject the ball screen, those kinds of mistakes are things to get mad about.”
Ohio State took 88 shots. Nebraska only took 69. That was the difference. Both squads shot 33% from the field, but Ohio State just bludgeoned the Huskers on the offensive glass, hauling in 25 offensive boards and turning those into 20 second-chance points.
“I want to see a sense of urgency,” Williams said for the coming days. Nebraska travels to an 18-4 Iowa team that is currently leading the Big Ten with a 9-2 conference record on Thursday. Tip is set for 6:30 p.m. CT. Nebraska won the first meeting in Lincoln, 78-69. But, that was a different, more confident Husker squad.
“Continue to come together” Williams said, “and find ways to continue to keep pressing on the gas and doing what we need to heading into the conference tournament.”
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.