There were 11 seconds left on the clock. The Husker women were down by three after leading almost the entire game. They had a chance and...promptly turned the ball over. The Huskers fouled and things looked grim.
Then, Missouri’s freshman star missed both free throws. Sam Haiby pulled down a must-have rebound. The Huskers ran to the other end of the floor looking for a three point prayer. Pass to Leigha Brown who drew a double team. She saw Haiby open in the corner and got her the ball.
The shot went up and....it was good!
The Huskers went to overtime and never looked back, winning 90-85 in the extra period.
The 2019-20 Husker women found a way to win a game that the 2018-19 team would have surely lost. By the end of this one, five of the 13 players on Amy Williams’ roster were unavailable. Two didn’t even make the trip (Kissinger and Brady, concussion protocol) and three more had fouled out (Eliely, Mershon and Whitish).
This veteran squad leaned on its sophomores to score points. The junior and seniors played pivotal roles but it seems that the Husker identity this season is going to revolve around its sophomores.
Kate Cain was a force in this game. Many of her contributions don’t show up in the stat column, but her presence made a big difference in enabling other teammates. Hannah Whitish didn’t have a huge offensive night, but she might have played her best defensive game.
When a team has players like Cain and Whitish accepting these roles, a team has some amazing ‘aces in the hole’. Cain and Whitish are capable of taking over a game if called upon. They have done so. But, they aren’t the kind of players that can get around a good game plan if they don’t have supporting talent. That was the story of the 2018-19 Huskers. In 2019-20, Cain and Whitish might not be the focus of game plans. They are going to be the players that can step up and wreck game plans that ignore what they can contribute.
Sophomore Sam Haiby scored a career-high 28 points, including a three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime. Haiby added Nebraska’s final field goal in overtime and NU’s last two points of the game at the free throw line with 13.3 seconds left to seal the win. She scored 18 points after halftime for the Huskers.
Fellow sophomore Leigha Brown added a huge performance of her own with 24 points. Brown scored 18 points after halftime, including four in overtime. Brown also set Haiby up on the left side as regulation wound down and made the assist to Haiby for the game-tying shot.
Senior Hannah Whitish pitched in 12 points to go along with team highs of seven rebounds, five assists and four steals, while also taking several big charges to get stops for the Huskers before fouling out late in overtime.
Fellow senior Nicea Eliely, who was the first of three Huskers to foul out in the game, added 10 points in just 24 minutes. For the contest, Nebraska was whistled for 30 fouls, which led to 31 points for the Tigers at the line. But it was Nebraska that made free throws down the stretch to seal the win, including a perfect 6-for-6 shooting in overtime from sophomores Ashtyn Veerbeek (2-2), Brown (2-2) and Haiby (2-2). For the game, NU finished 20-of-28 at the line after starting 5-for-10 at the stripe. Veerbeek finished with nine points, five rebounds and three assists despite fighting foul trouble the entire contest.
This was a great win for the women and shows how veteran teams find ways to win tough games.
Nebraska returns to Lincoln to four-game home stand at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday night, when the Huskers face Morgan State. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Bears is set for 7 p.m. A live video stream will be available on BTN+.