Nicea Eliely

Nebraska’s Nicea Eliely (5) fights for a loose ball during the Huskers’ matchup against Minnesota at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska ended the decade with a whimper, losing to Michigan State on New Year’s Eve and taking its second loss of the season. However, the Huskers rebounded well to start the new year, taking down No. 24 Minnesota 72-58.

Sitting at 1-1 in conference play, the Huskers had three days of rest before playing their first game of the new year against the Gophers.

Despite Minnesota’s ranking, both schools came into Saturday’s game as equals on both offense and defense. The Huskers were ninth in scoring defense coming into the game, while the Gophers were 10th, and on offense, Minnesota scored just over 76 points per game while Nebraska scored 74 points on average.

The similar numbers led to an almost even first quarter where neither team led by more than one possession. Nebraska and Minnesota seemed to be destined for a tight conference game as the score was tied at 10 apiece.

Senior guard Hannah Whitish hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Huskers a 13-10 lead and end the first quarter up three points. After that, Nebraska never gave up its lead.

Nebraska shot 56.3 percent from the field in the second quarter and went on two big scoring runs. Up 13-12, the Huskers’ first scoring run was a 10-0 run led by Whitish and senior guard Nicea Eiley, as both sunk a 3-pointer.

The run gave Nebraska a 23-12 lead but the Gophers fought back with a 7-0 run of their own in just one minute. Nebraska led 23-19 with five minutes left in the second quarter before grinding down the rest of the first half.

Minnesota scored only seven points over the last five minutes while Nebraska scored 12 points. The quarter went from scoring runs to exchanging baskets between the two teams. Once again, the Huskers came with another big offensive play.

Sophomore guard Sam Haiby created a three-point play after being fouled with a little over a minute left in the first half. The made lay-up and made free throw gave the Huskers a 35-24 lead going into halftime.

Nebraska’s offense was led by its guards, as Whitish, Haiby and Eliely combined for 23 of the 35 points. Junior center Kate Cain and sophomore forward Leigha Brown had the remaining 12 points of the first half. Cain had eight points but was a menace in the paint.

Cain had five blocks and eight rebounds in the first half, leading all players and anchoring the defense. With a great Husker paint presence, the Gophers shot just 10-for-36 from the field.

Minnesota avoided Cain as much as it could in the second half as Cain only had one block but the Gophers remained cold from the field. Nebraska started off slow but the Gophers could not capitalize on the slow start.

Nebraska was up 35-30 before going on another 10-point run to grab its biggest lead of the game so far. Whitish hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to give Nebraska its first points of the second half and spark the run.

In total, four different Huskers scored on the run, including sophomore forward Ashtyn Veerbeek who had been held scoreless to that point. Nebraska continued to lead by double digits for most of the third quarter through its strong guard play.

Whitish continued her strong shooting night and the Huskers shot 46.2 percent from the field during the third quarter. Nebraska maintained its lead despite the Gophers shooting above 40 percent as well but Gopher offense could not keep it up.

Nebraska led 51-44 going into the fourth quarter but the Gophers had cut down the once 15-point lead. The offensive momentum did not carry into the final quarter for the Gophers as they only scored 14 points and shot 26 percent from the field in the last 10 minutes. 

The Huskers continued a trend of closing out games, something they lacked last season, by scoring 22 points. Cain led the charge with six points in the quarter and finished the game with her third straight double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds.

Once again, Nebraska will go on another long break before playing Wisconsin at home on Jan. 9.