The Iowa Hawkeyes came into yesterday’s game #16 in RPI while Nebraska was #101. We all know that RPI is not a perfect predictor, but that wide a gap suggested that the Huskers were at a disadvantage.
Except, anyone that has followed this team suspected they were better than their schedule. The 78-69 victory improved the Huskers to 11-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Big Ten. Iowa slipped to 9-3 and 0-1 in the Big Ten.
Both the Huskers and Hawkeyes were starting to “receive votes” in the AP women’s basketball poll. Even with Nebraska’s strength of schedule (somewhere around 250 but I’m too lazy to look it up) a 10-1 record caused at least one media member to put them on their ballot.
This is a veteran squad on paper, but this team (offensively) is built around its sophomores - still underclassmen and needing time to test their new skills (namely defense and offensive rebounding). The non-con gave them that.
Iowa rolled to an early 8-2 lead and blocked two Husker shots. The Huskers battled back behind Cain and early threes by Whitish and Verbeek. Whitish had an especially big play as she drew an offensive foul on Iowa’s all-conference point guard Kathleen Doyle (her second foul) and Doyle had to sit down early in the first quarter.
Iowa led 21-18 after the first quarter.
Freshman Isabelle Bourne gave Nebraska a big spark, including eight points in a 1:20 span late in the second quarter for the Huskers. She helped Nebraska take its biggest lead of the first half at 35-27. Bourne’s eight points capped a stretch of 14 consecutive points by the NU bench, which started with a three by senior point guard Kristian Hudson to give Nebraska a 27-25 lead, before the first three-pointer of freshman Trinity Brady’s career pushed Nebraska’s edge to 30-27 with 4:33 left. Trinity Brady has also shown she could be the heir-apparent to Eliely on the defensive side of the ball as she makes her presence known within seconds of stepping on the floor.
Nebraska maintained a lead the rest of the way. Iowa narrowed the margin to 38-34 at halftime, before trimming it to 42-41 after a three-pointer from Kathleen Doyle with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
The Huskers pushed the lead to 57-52 at the end of three quarters and Iowa never got closer, as the Huskers built a 10-point lead on two occasions in the final period.
Kate Cain produced her first double-double of the season with 16 points and a season-high 12 rebounds to lead five Huskers in double figures. Cain, a junior center from Middletown, N.Y., hit 6-of-11 shots from the field and helped the Huskers seal the win by hitting four straight free throws in the fourth quarter.
Senior Nicea Eliely added a strong game with 12 points, four rebounds and a game-high five assists without a turnover to help the Huskers. Fellow senior Hannah Whitish contributed 11 points, three rebounds and three assists without a turnover, as Nebraska won the turnover battle 18-13 while outscoring the Hawkeyes 24-9 off those turnovers.
Sophomores Sam Haiby and Leigha Brown each pitched in 10 points for the Big Red, while freshman Isabelle Bourne added a huge lift off the bench with career highs of eight points and seven assists.
Nebraska’s defense was stellar throughout, holding the nation’s No. 11 field goal percentage team to just 36.8 percent (21-57) shooting from the field. The Hawkeyes hit just 6-of-20 threes despite Warnock going a career-best 3-for-3 in the contest off the bench for Iowa. The Hawkeyes hit just 3-of-15 field goals in the fourth period, with all three coming from Czinano, but hung around by hitting 11 free throws in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers hit 43.5 percent (27-62) of their field goals, including 7-of-19 threes (.368), while knocking down 17-of-24 free throws (.708), including 11-for-16 in the fourth quarter.
Even though I sing the praises of the sophomores, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip the cap to the upperclassmen. Senior Nicea Eliely is generally asked to guard the other team’s best perimeter player and has become a reliable offensive contributor. Having a veteran player who is looking to close out her career with a spot on the all-B1G defensive team gives younger players a great defensive role model and allows them to build confidence guarding the second or third best players on the other team.
Senior Hannah Whitish has the luxury this season of mostly being asked to run point. She isn’t asked to be the floor general AND score in double digits every game. With Taylor Kissinger out, Whitish is the team’s best three-point threat. Her savvy in running the offense and ability to hit enough long range shots to keep defenses from packing the paint are critical to the success of Brown, Haiby and Cain especially.
Junior Kate Cain has always been a force, especially as a rim protector, for the Huskers. It appears that she worked with the strength and conditioning staff in the offseason and reshaped her body. She hasn’t lost any of her physicality and shot-blocking ability, but is making more hustle plays than I remember in previous seasons. The 6’5” center has hit the floor to contest more loose balls than even many guards. She has also worked on her fadeaway shot - if the women ever get on TV (hint - next game - hint) you should watch, her touch on the ball is a thing of beauty.
The ladies will be on TV! This is not a drill!
Nebraska makes its first Big Ten Conference road trip on New Year’s Eve by traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Huskers and Spartans are scheduled to tip-off at noon (CT) and the game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and on radio by the Leafield IMG College Husker Sports Network.