Well, that was a welcome sight.
Nebraska looked… haphazard? Disjointed? Uncomfortable? Whatever way you want to describe what happened through the first three quarters, Nebraska let a weaker, smaller Morgan State Bears team hang around and enter the final quarter in hostile territory down just four points Thursday night.
And then Nebraska pulled away.
An absolutely dominant fourth quarter helped to rewrite the narrative so to speak, and the Huskers rolled their way late to a 78-55 win over Morgan State to open the season 3-0.
“I’m proud that we were able to stick with it and have a great fourth quarter and finish the day strong,” head coach Amy Williams said.
For most of the evening, Nebraska’s offense couldn’t find life. Big Red had just as many turnovers through three quarters (13) as it had made shots. “I think that was probably part of the reason,” sophomore wing Leigha Brown said, “they stayed in and played with us for three quarters.” Literally half of the team’s points came from the free throw line through the first 30 minutes. Nebraska took 33 shots at the charity stripe and sunk 26 of them.
Morgan State just couldn’t help itself. The Bears kept fouling. And Nebraska wasn’t returning the favor. The final margin at the free throw line ended with a 35-4 advantage for the Huskers in terms of attempts, and Morgan State didn’t make a trip to the line until the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if I’ve been in a game like that before,” Williams said. “It was a very concerted effort on our part to defend without fouling, and I thought we did a pretty decent job of that. It’s just really paying close attention to being able to make them shoot over the top and don’t swat down, and [no] unnecessary fouls. We just didn’t need to beat ourselves.”
Nebraska blocked nine Morgan State shots and generally defended the paint pretty well—they won the battle for points in the paint 38-26—but rebounding was the issue on that end. The Huskers gave up 20 offensive boards. They had 18 of their own but 20 of the Bears’ 34 boards came on the offensive glass.
“At one point I felt like the only chance we had to get a rebound was Nicea [Eliely],” Williams said.
The senior guard had a career-high 15 for Nebraska.
She was attacking. It was an energy Williams wanted from the rest of the group. An energy that was, frankly, lacking up until the fourth quarter. Nebraska was probably lucky to have even the four-point cushion it did because of the free throws. The Bears led the country in steals coming in, so their M.O. was aggressiveness on defense. The fouls were piling up but Nebraska wasn’t making them pay.
So Williams changed her rotations at halftime. Brown and freshman forward Isabelle Bourne started the second half in place of sophomore Sam Haiby and junior Kate Cain. Haiby followed up a 28-point explosion against Missouri last Sunday with a two-point, two-turnover first half.
“I really just wanted to, in the second half, be able to play a little more aggressively and be able to just play with energy,” Williams said. “We felt like we were going to go with players we had seen show some energy in the first half.”
Energy and defense is to what led to the fourth-quarter runaway, Eliely said. Nebraska outscored Morgan State 26-7 in the fourth. The Bears converted one of their final 16 attempts from the field and, overall, just two of their 20 shots.
Offensively, eight different Huskers scored in the frame. Brown finished with a game-high 16, but she only got four of those in the fourth.
“I thought in the fourth quarter we played with a little more pace, and we were able to finish,” Williams said. “We got a few post touches that we were able to put in the basket and I think that really sparked us.
“Certainly we want to be a team that can close out games, but I think one thing we’ve learned along the way is that every possession counts and every quarter counts and we don’t want to wait until any quarter to be able to turn things on. Just understanding the sense of urgency for every single possession, all 40 minutes, is going to be important.”
So maybe not a completely re-written narrative. Williams was still a little edgier than you’d expect a coach to be when her team wins by 20-plus. Nebraska took care of business when it mattered, she just wants to see them do that more consistently. Next opportunity: Sunday at home against SIU Edwardsville (1-2). Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. CT on BTN+.
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.