Cain 2.2.20

Nebraska’s Kate Cain (31) loses the ball among Ohio State defenders during the match at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska women’s basketball needed a season-defining win and played like its season was on the line against No. 19 Northwestern on the road. Junior center Kate Cain had one of her best performances of the season, notching another double-double.

Cain had 12 points and 12 rebounds along with seven blocks and four steals. Her performance was a major reason why the Huskers shut down the Wildcat offense and had a chance to upset one of the top teams in the conference.

However, her performance would be remembered for one thing: a simple mistake.

Tied 56-56 with just around 50 seconds in the game, Nebraska sophomore forward Leigha Brown passed to an open Cain in the paint. Instead of just taking the open shot like hundreds of times before, Cain attempted a pass to sophomore forward Ashtyn Veerbeek.

Northwestern junior guard Jordan Hamilton picked off the pass and ended Nebraska last chance to. The Wildcats took the lead and ended any chatter of an upset.

The Wildcats are one of the Big Ten’s best teams at home, with an 11-2 home record going into the game against Nebraska, and they scored over 80 points in four of their six home conference games. 

Against Nebraska, the Wildcat offense seemed to lose its offensive firepower. Northwestern senior forward Abi Scheid led the Big Ten in 3-point percentage with 48.8 percent, yet she made only one of her five 3-point attempts against the Huskers.

Scheid’s perimeter struggles allowed the Huskers to limit looks inside the paint. Cain had a major hand in shutting down the interior, whether it was with blocks or forcing bad looks. Wildcat starting senior center Abbie Wolf was locked down, held to just four points and four rebounds.

The Wildcats’ struggles on offense meant Nebraska could capitalize and it did. In the first half, Nebraska shot over 50 percent from the field while Northwestern shot just 33 percent. The massive shooting splits did not translate to the scoreboard.

Nebraska led 33-29 going into halftime despite a nearly 20-percent difference in shooting percentage. The Wildcats kept the first half close through the free-throw line and points off turnovers, going 6-for-8 from the line and forcing six first-half turnovers.

The Wildcats scored nine points off those turnovers, which kept them hanging around in the first half. Nebraska kept up its shooting performance in the third quarter, though, extending its lead to 38-29.

With six minutes left, Northwestern scored its first points of the second half. After those points, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the game through a half-court press defense. 

The defense worked by rushing the Husker offensive sets as Nebraska did not get up the court until there were 21 or 22 seconds left on the shot clock. That led to quick passes and the Huskers suffered immensely, giving up seven turnovers.

The majority of the Wildcat offense came from those turnovers, scoring eight of their 13 third quarter points directly from turnovers. Nebraska’s defense held on tight as junior guard Lindsey Pulliam struggled to score for Northwestern.

Pulliam averaged over 18 points a game coming into the contest, yet had no buckets through the end of third quarter. The Huskers were shutting down Northwestern’s premier offensive players, yet could not break away from the Wildcat defense.

Nebraska needed a consistent offense to win this slugfest as it shot 36.4 percent in the third quarter and held Northwestern to 15.8 percent. The fourth quarter saw a form of Husker offensive consistency for the first eight minutes as five different Huskers scored.

Both offenses come to play in the final period as sophomore guard Veronica Burton scored five consecutive points to take a 49-48 lead. That was the first Wildcat lead of the second half, but Nebraska responded with five points of its own to take a 54-49 lead, and held a 56-51 lead with three minutes lead.

Then, the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to seal the game and retain their hold of the Big Ten. Pulliam hit her first basket of the game to take a 58-56 lead after the Cain turnover. Pulliam hit seven free throws as well, including two to seal the game with four seconds left.

Nebraska’s two biggest offensive possessions of the game ended without a shot as Cain’s turnovers and then a charge from Veerbeek with five seconds left ended any Husker chance at an upset.

The Huskers lost 60-56, and will continue on the road to Ohio State on Feb. 19  for a chance to salvage a once promising season.

sports@dailynebraskan.com