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Nebraska WBB Recap: Huskers Drop Heartbreaker to Wildcats

The Huskers rallied in the fourth quarter but came up short against Northwestern

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Maryland vs Nebraska Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Another fourth quarter rally. Another disappointing “L”.

Nebraska overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to take a 54-53 lead with 37 seconds left, but Northwestern made the plays in the closing seconds to escape with a 58-54 win.

Nebraska slipped to 4-4 in the Big Ten and 9-10 overall with its sixth loss by two possessions or less this season, while Northwestern improved to 5-3 in the Big Ten and 12-7 overall.

Two Good Things:

  • The defense is returning to the level that Amy Williams has put on the court in her first two seasons. In their last four games, the Huskers have held opponents to an average of 61 points per game.
  • Hannah Whitish is starting to look like Hannah Whitish again. She has struggled this season but is beginning to show the command of the floor and nice long range shooting that made her so dangerous last year.

Two Not-So-Good Things:

  • The improved defense has paradoxically come at the expense of rebounding. Earlier this season, the Huskers were giving up a lot of points but out-rebounding other teams. Now, they are putting the clamps down - without clearing the glass. If you know how that works, let me know. I sure don’t.
  • Sophomore slump for Kate Cain? Don’t get me wrong, the 6’5” Husker center is a very good player and a big (literally) presence in the paint. I had hoped to see her take a step forward on this season on offense. To my eyes, she’s been struggling to make those short shots she seemed to hit with no trouble last year. The Husker offense has been a bit more improvisational this season (I think some combination of the playing styles of the freshman and Whitish’s struggles at point). Perhaps as Whitish continues to take hold of the offense, we’ll see Cain flourish a bit more as things get more disciplined.

If you love stifling defense, this was a great game for you to watch.

Nebraska led 21-19 with one minute left in the first half, but the Wildcats erupted on a 10-0 run with the final six points of the first half and the first four points of the second half to build an eight-point lead.

As Nebraska has shown all season, the Huskers refused to go away, rallying to cut the Northwestern lead to 37-34 at the end of three quarters.

The Wildcats answered with five points from Sydney Wood in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to regain a 42-34 lead, before the Huskers rallied again.

Hannah Whitish, who led the Huskers with 12 points on four three-pointers on the night, buried a three with 8:14 left, before Taylor Kissinger got a traditional three-point play, slashing the Wildcat margin to 44-40 with 7:24 left.

The lead remained at four before Kissinger hit her only three of the night with 4:16 left to trim Northwestern’s edge to 49-48. Pulliam put the Cats back up 53-50 with a jumper, before Whitish tied the game at 53 with her final three of the night with 1:03 remaining.

The Huskers then got a big defensive play with a steal that resulted in Nicea Eliely getting fouled after diving on the floor for a loose ball with 37.8 seconds left. Eliely made the second of two free throws to briefly give the Huskers their only lead of the second half at 54-53.

However, Northwestern senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah drove for a layup with 25 seconds left to give Northwestern the lead at 55-54, and the Huskers were unable to score the rest of the way.

Nebraska held a one-point lead in the final minute despite shooting a season-low 29.2 percent (19-65) from the field. The Huskers did hit eight three-pointers, but shot just 28.6 percent (8-28) from long range. Nebraska also hit just 8-of-14 free throws (.571).

The Huskers played some of their best defense of the season, holding the Wildcats to just 35.9 percent (23-64) shooting, including 5-of-16 threes (.313). The Wildcats also struggled at the free throw line, going just 7-for-12 (.583).

Although Northwestern was plus-10 on the boards, the Huskers answered by winning the turnover battle 14-8. Nebraska’s eight turnovers were a season best.

Although Whitish was the only Nebraska player in double figures, all 10 Huskers contributed at least one point and one rebound in the game. Eight Huskers also recorded at least one assist. Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek had nine points and five rebounds while tying her career best for the second straight game with three blocks. Nicea Eliely added seven points and a pair of steals, while Taylor Kissinger and Leigha Brown each pitched in six points. Freshman Kayla Mershon had a team-best seven rebounds, while also adding five points, one block and two steals. Sophomore Kate Cain added three more blocks to go with four rebounds, two points, and an assist.

Nebraska returns to Big Ten Conference road action on Sunday, when the Huskers take on Wisconsin. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison is set for 2 p.m.