Is there any Big Ten team, in any sport, that hates seeing the Huskers on the schedule more than a ranked Michigan State squad?
The Huskers forced turnover after turnover and played offense with a free and easy style not seen since their first Purdue game. They led from start to finish to improve to 7-8 in the Big Ten and 12-14 overall, while knocking the No. 24 Spartans to 7-7 in the conference and 17-8 on the season. The 82-71 win moved the Huskers from one of the bottom four seeds in the conference (having to play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament) up to 10th place and within one game of fifth place - with three games left to play (@Northwestern, vs.Iowa, @Penn State).
- Five Huskers scored in double figures: Hannah Whitish (16), Leigha Brown (14), Taylor Kissinger (12), Maddie Simon (10), and Nicea Eliely (10).
- Six different Huskers made 12 total three-pointers. In the post-game interview, Hannah Whitish indicated their game plan was to do a lot of drive penetration and kickouts to the open three point shooter. That strategy depends on said shooters making their threes and Nebraska’s roster delivered.
- Kate Cain blocked SEVEN shots and pushed her season total to 71. She now owns the two best shot blocking seasons in Husker women’s basketball history after her historic 100-block freshman campaign (Danielle Page previously held the record with 70 I believe).
- Whitish climbed to No. 3 on Nebraska’s career three-point list with 184, moving ahead of Yvonne Turner (183, 2007-10).
Nebraska set the tone early jumping to an 8-2 lead to force a Michigan State timeout just two minutes into the contest before taking a 27-18 lead at the end of the first quarter on the strength of 5-of-7 three-point shooting, including two each from Brown and Kissinger.
The Huskers continued to surge in the second quarter, taking their biggest lead at 18 points after a 7-0 run that started with a Hannah Whitish three, before heading to halftime with a 42-26 edge.
Nebraska hit 8-of-14 threes in the first half, including three from Brown, who also added three assists and three rebounds in her second straight start (Taylor Kissinger has been battling the flu). Whitish led the Huskers with 10 first-half points on a pair of threes, while adding three rebounds and three assists of her own. Kissinger pitched in six in the half on her two threes, while Maddie Simon played well with five points on 2-of-2 shooting including a three.
Nebraska never looked back while building a 22-point third-quarter lead. The Huskers also forced Michigan State into a season-high 23 turnovers.
Freshman Leigha Brown tied a career high with four three-pointers on five attempts. Brown also tied for the team lead with five rebounds and dished out four assists.
Whitish hit a pair of threes on her way to 16 points, but it was a pair of late two-point baskets by Whitish that helped seal the win in the fourth quarter. Whitish also tied for the team lead with five assists and grabbed four rebounds.
Sophomore Taylor Kissinger had 12 points and finished 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, while going a perfect 6-for-6 at the free throw line late in the fourth quarter to help secure Nebraska’s second win over a top-25 team this season.
Senior Maddie Simon, who also hit a pair of threes, and junior Nicea Eliely both threw in 10 points apiece in the victory. Eliely added a game-high four steals for the Big Red.
Sophomore Kate Cain played a huge role in the Spartans’ woes. Cain rejected seven of Michigan State’s shots, a new season high for blocks, while adding eight points and two rebounds.
The game wasn’t totally without drama. Michigan State cut Nebraska’s lead down to as few as eight points with three minutes remaining, but a pair of layups by Whitish and a block by Cain extended Nebraska’s lead back to 12 points with 1:44 remaining. Michigan State outscored Nebraska 30-20 in the quarter, but it was not enough for the Spartans.
Nebraska shot 50.0 percent from both the field (27-54) and beyond the arc (12-24). The Huskers also shot 88.9 percent from the charity stripe (16-18). Michigan State finished at 41.5 percent (27-65), including (6-for-25) from three-point range. The Spartans were a perfect 11-for-11 at the free throw line. Nebraska had the advantage in assists (20-8) and blocks (8-4).
Two Good Things
- More of this drive penetration offense please. Haiby and Brown are tailor made for this style of play and with Whitish and Kissinger patrolling the arc, there are shooters to be found on kickouts. Nicea Eliely can do any of the above. Add Kate Cain to this mix - she was superb a couple of times in screening for the drive penetration and opening up the layup (instead of the kickout). At least one time in the game, the Spartans were so worried about stopping the drive and taking away the three point shooters that Cain ended up all alone under the basket for an easy two. Earlier in the season, the Huskers’ young roster might have turned the ball over 40 times/game with that plan, but they may be ready to handle a riskier style now?
- Team basketball. This was not a collection of individuals trying their best to make something happen. This was a team effort in which each player’s part set up their teammates.
Two Not So Good Things
- The Spartan fourth quarter rally had Husker fans nervous as a 20+ point lead dwindled to as little as eight. Michigan State is too good for the Huskers to give them any glimmer of hope.
- The remaining schedule is not easy. Iowa currently leads the conference after beating Maryland. Earlier in the season, I thought the Huskers had a chance to knock off the Hawkeyes (the Huskers lost 77-71 in Iowa City), but Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence and swagger right now. That is a likely “L” for Nebraska when every game will matter for seeding and any chance at postseason play. Northwestern continues to be a thorn in Nebraska’s side and with that game on the road, things are more likely to tip the Wildcats’ way. Penn State should be a “W” for Nebraska, but this is the same Husker team that lost to a woeful Wisconsin squad. Grab one win (or zero) out of those three and Nebraska is playing on Day One of the conference tourney as a bottom four seed. Grab two wins and they could rise as high as fifth (although that’s unlikely). Getting up to third or fourth is mathematically possible if the Huskers win all three and Rutgers and/or Michigan lose all of their remaining games (not gonna happen).
Nebraska heads back on the road Thursday to take on Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. Tip-off at Welsh-Ryan Arena is set for 7 p.m. with live audio provided by the Husker Sports Network and streaming video from BTN Plus.