In a flipping of the script, Nebraska controlled the action for almost the entire game Sunday in Madison before Wisconsin got hot late and surged to a 70-69 win on a buzzer-beating triple from the corner.
Nebraska led Wisconsin for 36:07 and didn’t trail until that final shot from senior Badger guard Kelly Karlis. At the half, the Huskers had a 39-27 lead thanks in part to 10 Badger turnovers in 20 minutes. Wisconsin won the third quarter but two free throws from senior forward Maddie Simon with 4:18 to go in the game gave Nebraska a 10-point lead to play with.
So many times this season, it has been the Huskers (9-11, 4-5 Big Ten) who have started slow and found themselves in holes heading into the final quarter of play. And so many times this season, Nebraska has rallied to either win or make the front-runners as uncomfortable as possible.
This time it was Wisconsin (11-10, 2-7 Big Ten) who rallied. With just under four minutes to play, Badger forward Imani Lewis shook free for a pull-up, mid-range jumper. Lewis, who finished with 17 points (7-of-13 shooting) and seven boards, was the spark to a 13-2 close.
In the span of about 90 seconds, Wisconsin shaved a 10-point lead to four. The Huskers turned it over three times during the final four minutes and Wisconsin hit four of its six shots. The two misses? They both turned into offensive rebounds and second-chance points. (Nebraska lost the rebounding battle 34-33 but had 13 offensive rebounds against Wisconsin’s 12.)
With a minute to play both teams exchanged turnovers in a tied game at 67-all. First, it was Husker freshman forward Kayla Mershon with a lazy pass that was picked off with 41 seconds to play. Then, with Wisconsin hoping to hold for the final shot, senior Karlis was called for an offensive foul with 17 seconds to play.
Nebraska’s only two points of the final four minutes of the game came from guard Nicea Eliely, who drove the lane and laid a shot up and in with 0.7 seconds on the clock for a 69-67 Husker lead.
Wisconsin called time, advanced the ball and looked to inbound from the left side. Sophomore guard Niya Beverly threw short to the left corner and found Karlis with Eliely draped all over her. Karlis caught and immediately rose from 3 for the game-winner.
Four Huskers scored in double-digits on the afternoon, but all four came from the starting group. Sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger led the charge with 15 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-5 from deep). Sophomore center Kate Cain had 14 and seven boards in the middle. Eliely added 12 on 6-of-9 shooting and junior guard Hannah Whitish buried four 3s for 12 points herself.
But the Huskers have been a team fueled by scorers off the bench.
Freshmen Leigha Brown (10.1 ppg) and Sam Haiby (10.0 ppg) are Williams’ two best scorers on the season and freshman forward Ashtyn Veerbeek has been a change-of-pace spell for Cain in the middle. Haiby went 0-for-5 and was held scoreless. Veerbeek fouled out in eight minutes and didn’t even get a shot off. Brown went 4-of-7 from the field for nine points but couldn’t find her way to the free throw line like she has in the past. A bench that usually averages 32 points a night produced just 15.
The Huskers shot 44 percent from the field and hit seven 3s, both respectable numbers. Both sides were even in the turnover department (18 each), nearly even in paint points (Wisconsin won that 34-32) and closely matched on the boards.
The difference was Nebraska’s lack of production from the bench and its inability to defend without fouling. Wisconsin took 20 free throws, making 14 of them. Nine of those came in the fourth quarter alone, where Wisconsin connected on eight.
For the fourth time this season, the Huskers have lost back-to-back games. They’ll look to regroup on the road against Purdue (15-7, 6-3 Big Ten) on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT. The game will be carried 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.