All that matters is how you finish.
Nebraska entered the fourth quarter down eight Sunday night against 23rd-ranked Minnesota at home. The Gophers looked to have wrestled away control of the game with a physically dominant third quarter and Nebraska entered the fourth having missed all seven of its attempts from beyond the arc.
Took no time for things to change. Sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger buried Nebraska’s first 3 six seconds in and that was enough to open the floodgates.
She hit one more and converted an and-one opportunity, junior point guard Hannah Whitish hit two of her own triples and Nebraska used a 25-11 fourth quarter to bury Minnesota (13-5, 2-5 Big Ten), 63-57, for NU’s first win over a ranked opponent this season.
Kissinger’s opening 3 set the stage, but it was Whitish’s first triple that ignited the game-clinching run. With 4:35 to play, Whitish hit from the corner to draw the Huskers within four. Minnesota’s Kenisha Bell got two free throws to fall with four minutes left to extend the Gopher lead back to six, but those proved to be their last points of the night.
Nebraska closed on a 12-0 run.
Whitish hit another 3, then Kissinger hit another 3 and the crowd inside Pinnacle Bank Arena got rolling. Free throws from the junior point guard and four points from freshman guard Sam Haiby (who finished with a game-high 16 points) closed things out.
The offense will get the attention, and rightfully so, Nebraska caught fire in the fourth, but head coach Amy Williams elected to ride with the 1-3-1 zone on defense late and Minnesota could never really get a handle on it.
The Gophers shot 33 percent in the first half and turned it over eight times. The Huskers’ length inside (nine blocks overall) caused issues for Minnesota, who thoroughly out-classed Nebraska in the rebounding department but couldn’t figure out how to beat center Kate Cain at the rim.
The third-quarter adjustment was to pull Cain out of the paint and, when Nebraska trapped on the perimeter, swing the ball to find open driving lanes. It worked to the tune of a 19-12 frame that featured six offensive rebounds, eight second-chance points and 44 percent shooting. Williams’ counter was the zone, unleashing guard Nicea Eliely on the perimeter.
The junior wing finished with only two points on 1-of-5 shooting, but with six rebounds and six steals overall, she had as big a hand in the win as any. Because five of those steals came in the fourth quarter. When Nebraska went zone, Eliely started aggressively jumping passing lanes and going after the ball. Minnesota turned it over nearly as many times (seven) as it shot the ball in the fourth (eight).
For the game, Nebraska out-shot the Gophers 44 to 37 percent. Minnesota out-rebounded Nebraska 43-24 (19-6 on the offensive glass), something Williams will focus on moving forward as Nebraska was just simply out of position on a number of those offensive boards, but the Huskers won the paint battle 32-20 and only gave up 15 second-chance points on all those extra opportunities.
Next on the schedule is Northwestern (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten), who comes to Pinnacle Bank Arena Thursday for a 7 p.m. CT tilt with the Huskers. Nebraska will be looking to win three straight after dropping three in a row.
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.