The Nebraska women’s basketball team had a strong offensive showing as it took down No. 24 Michigan State 82-71 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday.
Nine players scored for Nebraska, with six hitting from beyond the arc in the victory. The Huskers improved to 12-14 (7-8 Big Ten) with the victory.
“We know that we have so many people on this team that can score,” junior guard Hannah Whitish said. “The one through four spots can shoot, Kate [Cain] can shoot [from three-point range], but she doesn’t in games. Everyone can shoot it very well and today everyone was on.”
Whitish led the way for Nebraska with 16 points and five assists. Freshman forward Leigha Brown scored 14 points along with a team-high five rebounds and four three-pointers.
Sophomore guard Taylor Kissinger added 12 points while senior forward Maddie Simon and junior guard Nicea Eliely each had 10. Eliely also had a team-high four steals.
Sophomore center Kate Cain recorded a season-high seven blocks to go along with her eight-point performance. Freshman guard Sam Haiby added four points and five assists. Freshman forward Ashtyn Veerbeek scored seven points and freshman forward Kayla Mershon finished with two rebounds, one assist, one block and one point.
Nebraska finished the night shooting 50 percent from the floor, going 27-54 from the field and 12-24 from three-point range. The Huskers finished 16-18 from the free-throw line.
“In the first three quarters, I thought that was some of the best basketball we’ve played all season,” Simon said.
Junior guard Shay Colley led the Spartans with 17 points.
Brown opened the scoring with a three-pointer on the Huskers’ first possession. After a Michigan State basket, Whitish scored a bucket and Brown hit another shot from beyond the arc to make it 8-2 less than two minutes into the game, prompting a Michigan State timeout.
After the timeout, Brown assisted Whitish on a layup and Nebraska expanded its lead to 10-2. The Spartans then switched to a full-court press on defense and saw some success with the strategy. Michigan State forced a pair of Husker turnovers and went on a 5-0 run to close the gap to 10-7.
Nebraska shut down the Spartan run with a pair of three-pointers — one each from Kissinger and Whitish — as part of an 8-3 scoring run that made it 18-10 with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
Michigan State cut the lead slightly over the next two minutes of play, before Kissinger’s second three-pointer of the game made it 23-14 with 1:50 left in the opening period. It was the Huskers’ fifth three-pointer of the first quarter.
The Spartans added four more points to make it 23-18 before Haiby closed out the quarter with four-straight points of her own. Nebraska took a 27-18 lead into the second quarter.
The Huskers opened the second period on a 5-0 run with a layup from Cain and Brown’s third three-pointer as they extended their lead to 32-18. With 6:35 left before half, Michigan State’s junior guard Taryn McCutcheon scored a bucket to make it 32-20. The basket ended a Spartan scoring drought that stretched back to the 1:06 mark of the first quarter.
Simon got in on the three-point scoring next, hitting her first shot from beyond the arc to make it 35-20 with six minutes left in the second quarter. Michigan State got four points back on two buckets as Nebraska’s offense went dormant for the next three minutes. Nebraska held a 35-24 advantage with three minutes left until halftime.
Nebraska’s offense came alive once again and closed out the half on a 7-2 scoring run to take a 42-26 lead into the locker room. Whitish added the Huskers’ eighth three-pointer of the half, while Cain and Eliely each scored during the run as well.
Nebraska’s 16-point advantage was its largest halftime lead over a Big Ten opponent this season.
The Huskers opened the second half with an 8-2 scoring run to extend its lead to 22 points at 50-28 with 7:53 left in the third quarter. Brown scored five of Nebraska’s points during the run, including her fourth three-pointer of the game and a coast-to-coast layup.
Facing its largest deficit of the game, Michigan State turned back to the full-court press defense. The Spartans temporarily shut down the Husker offense and went on a 9-0 run, making it 50-37. Nebraska ended the run when Whitish found Eliely underneath the basket on a half-court pass for a layup to bring the score to 52-37 at the third quarter media timeout.
When play resumed, Michigan State made a shot, but then Nebraska went on an 8-0 run. Simon hit a pair of free throws when Veerbeek — who came onto the court during Simon’s free throws — hit from beyond the arc on the Huskers’ next possession.
Not to be outdone, Simon hit a three-pointer of her own to complete the run. With one minute remaining in the quarter, Nebraska led 60-39.
Each team added two more points in the final minute of the third quarter to make it 62-41 as the game entered the final period.
Nebraska failed to score in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter as the Spartans scored seven-straight points, bringing the score to 62-48 with eight minutes left in the game. The Huskers fought back with a pair of free throws by Veerbeek, along with Eliely’s first three-pointer of the game, helping Nebraska increase its lead to 67-50.
Michigan State hung around, embarking on another 7-0 scoring run to cut the Huskers’ lead to 67-57, forcing head coach Amy Williams to call a timeout with 5:37 left in the contest. Nebraska had been outscored 16-5 in the fourth quarter to this point.
After the timeout, neither team found the bottom of the net for the next 90 seconds of play. Michigan State’s junior forward Victoria Gaines put in a layup with four minutes left, bringing the score to 67-59. This was the first time the Husker lead had been less than 10 points since the 9:50 mark of the second quarter. It was as close as the Spartans would get to the lead.
The Huskers hit their last three field goals and nine of their 10 free throws to stave off the Michigan State rally and close out the game with an 82-71 victory.
“We talked as a team about wanting to play one-game seasons from here on out and be the very best versions of ourselves today,” Williams said. “We feel great about the fact that we’re 1-0 today and were able to give this fantastic Sunday crowd a win.”
Nebraska will travel for its next contest against the Northwestern Wildcats on Thursday, Feb. 21. The game is set for a 7 p.m. tip-off and will air on BTN Plus.