The Nebraska women’s basketball team pulled off a major upset, knocking off No. 23 Minnesota 63-57 on Sunday.
Minnesota is the first ranked team the Huskers have defeated this season, and the win put Nebraska at 9-9 on the season.
“To get our first win against a ranked opponent that was just a good win for us here at home,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said. “We’ll continue to build on that moving forward.”
The first quarter started slow, as both teams had only two made field goals through seven minutes as Nebraska held a 6-5 lead.
Freshman guard Sam Haiby then gave Nebraska an offensive spark, scoring the next four points for the Huskers. Freshman forward Ashtyn Veerbeek built on to Haiby’s run, scoring four points of her own to help Nebraska take a 14-11 lead into the second quarter.
Minnesota guard Kenisha Bell began to heat up early in the second quarter, scoring six straight points capped by a pair of free throws to give Minnesota a 17-16 lead.
Throughout the majority of the first half, neither team made a three-pointer. The first three-pointer of the game came at a great time for Minnesota, as senior forward Irene Garrido Perez hit one at the buzzer to give the Gophers a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Both teams had their fair share of struggles to address at halftime. Nebraska shot 36 percent from the field, including 0-6 on three-pointers. The Huskers also had seven turnovers and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Minnesota shot 33.3 percent, including 20 percent from the perimeter. The Gophers had eight turnovers of their own in the half.
Bell was the driving force for Minnesota in the first half, scoring 10 points along with four rebounds and two assists.
Minnesota came out of the break firing. After a Nebraska basket to start the half, Minnesota went on an 8-0 run to take a 35-28 lead. Freshman forward Leigha Brown stopped the run with an and-one floater, sparking a 9-3 run for the Huskers. Haiby highlighted the run by breaking down a full-court press from Minnesota and finishing at the rim to bring the score to 38-37.
Minnesota responded yet again, ending the period with an 8-1 run that gave the Gophers a 46-38 lead at the end of the third.
The first three quarters were a struggle for Nebraska, and Minnesota’s defense was much of the reason for that.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but in the grand scheme of things all of that was just credit to Minnesota’s defense,” Williams said. “They came in and they really made it difficult for us to get open looks from beyond the arc.”
In the fourth quarter, Nebraska started to heat up. Sophomore forward Taylor Kissinger opened the quarter by hitting Nebraska’s first three-pointer of the game. Minnesota responded with four straight points to take its biggest lead of the game at 50-41.
The Huskers kept pushing, and eventually broke through. With the score at 55-48, junior guard Hannah Whitish made her first three-pointer. Bell made two free throws on the ensuing Minnesota possession, but that was the last time the Gophers scored all game. Whitish made her second three-pointer on the next possession, and after a Minnesota miss, Kissinger made another three to tie the game and cause the home crowd to erupt with just over three minutes to go.
After a Minnesota timeout, Veerbeek blocked a Minnesota layup that led to Whitish drawing a foul on the fastbreak. Whitish sank both, giving Nebraska a 59-57 lead with 2:28 left.
Minnesota had a chance to tie the game with 53 seconds left after both teams combined for four straight turnovers. However, junior guard Nicea Eliely came up with a steal with 42 seconds left, and Haiby hit a layup to extend the lead to four points.
Eliely put the game out of reach on the next possession with her fifth steal of the quarter. This led to Haiby making two free throws to cap off Nebraska’s 15-2 run.
For Nebraska, the key to the run was turning defense into offense.
“Putting pressure up on the ball and turning them over created easy looks. We executed down the stretch,” Haiby said.
“It all started on the defensive end,” Whitish added.
Eliely had a career high six steals in the game, and her role in the defense as the “pirate” was crucial down the stretch.
“Their job is hard as heck,” Whitish said as to why the role is called the pirate. “They have to pick up the ball full court.”
Haiby was key to Nebraska’s offensive success, leading the team with 16 points on 6-10 shooting.
One area Nebraska struggled in was rebounding, as Minnesota outrebounded the Huskers 43-24. This was the biggest rebounding deficit that Nebraska has had so far this season.
“It’s incredibly tough, I told our players I don’t think you can overcome a 19 rebound deficit unless you’re forcing 17 turnovers like we did, unless we’re shooting 83 percent from the free-throw line,” Williams said. “There were some things that had to happen.”
Nebraska will look to build onto its two-game winning streak next game, as it will take on Northwestern on Thursday at 7:00 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.