The Huskers needed a win in the worst way. An NCAA tournament bid is a longshot, but Nebraska needed to get back the mojo they showed early in the conference season.
After a slow start, which had the Huskers trailing by four points after one quarter and leading at half by only one, they poured it on in the third quarter on their way to a 75-58 win over Penn State. The Huskers improved to 16-9 overall and 6-8 in the Big Ten. Penn State slipped to 7-18 overall and 1-13 in the conference.
Leigha Brown scored a game-high 20 points to lead four Huskers in double figures. She added six rebounds and three assists in a strong all-around performance. Fellow sophomore Ashtyn Veerbeek added 12 points, four rebounds and two steals to help the Huskers inside. Sophomore Sam Haiby pitched in 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, while freshman forward Isabelle Bourne contributed 11 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench.
Husker center Kate Cain, contributed six points, eight rebounds, six blocks and a steal in the game. As a team, the Huskers blocked 12 shots - matching their season high.
After trailing for much of the first half, Nebraska closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run in the final 2:30. The Huskers got their final two points on a pair of free throws by Hannah Whitish with 6.3 seconds left. Whitish finished with five points on the night.
Nebraska went to halftime with a 32-31 lead despite going just 10-for-29 from the field (.345). Penn State not only out-shot the Big Red (.371), the Lady Lions also hit 5-of-14 threes. The Huskers went 3-for-7 from long range and hit 9-of-10 free throws while Penn State did not attempt a free throw. NU out-rebounded PSU 21-20 and won the first-half turnover battle, 7-6.
In the second half, Nebraska erupted for a season-high 26 points in the third quarter while holding Penn State to just 12. The Huskers hit 11-of-14 shots from the floor in the quarter, including nine straight shots to surge to a 15-point lead at the end of 30 minutes.
Penn State trimmed the margin to 12 early in the fourth quarter and Cain was whistled for her fourth foul. But Bourne erupted for seven of NU’s next nine points in a span of less than two minutes to end any Lady Lion hopes of a comeback by pushing the lead to 69-48 with 6:19 left. On the defensive end, Nebraska blocked four shots in the fourth period without Cain on the floor.
For the game, Nebraska hit 46.6 percent (27-58) of its field goal attempts, including 50 percent (6-12) of its threes. The Huskers hit just 1-of-5 threes in the first quarter, then went 5-for-7 the rest of the game. NU also went a solid 15-for-17 (.882) at the free throw line and won the rebounding battle, 42-37. The two teams each committed 13 turnovers.
Nebraska held Penn State to just 31.9 percent (22-69) shooting for the game, including 27.6 percent (8-29) from long range. The Lady Lions did go 6-for-6 at the line.
A surprising Northwestern Wildcat team, who sits at #2 in the conference standings, awaits the Huskers. The Huskers travel to Evanston, Ill., to take on No. 19 Northwestern. Tip-off between Nebraska and the Wildcats from Welsh-Ryan Arena is set for 2 p.m (CT) on Sunday.
To end the regular season with a .500 conference record, the Huskers will have to win three out of their final four. Two of the final games are against ranked teams (Indiana, Northwestern), one is against a team the Huskers have lost to once this season (Ohio State; overtime) and the fourth is an Illinois team that has only won two conference games, but is playing very competitive basketball late in the season. The Huskers could win all four. They could win zero. Strap in - this is going to be a fun ride to end the season!