The season came to a dramatic end for Nebraska women’s basketball as the sixth-seeded Huskers fell to 11-seed Purdue 75-71 in the Big Ten Tournament.
With under two minutes to go, junior guard Hannah Whitish hit a three-pointer that brought the Huskers within one point. However, Nebraska couldn’t complete the 14-point second-half comeback.
Nebraska beat Purdue twice in the regular season, but the Huskers could not get the job done in their most important game of the year.
Junior guard Dominique Oden led the way for the Boilermakers, scoring 20 points on 9-15 shooting. Oden added six rebounds, including four offensive rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Junior forward Ae’Rianna Harris also had a big game, notching a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, including five offensive boards. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year added three blocks as well, with the third tying a Purdue school record.
Sophomore forward Taylor Kissinger and sophomore center Kate Cain were bright spots for the Huskers in the game. Kissinger had a team-high 15 points, with all of her points coming from five three-pointers. Cain scored 10 points while adding a team-high seven rebounds and two blocks.
Through most of the first quarter, the game was close. Six-and-a-half minutes in, Nebraska held a 10-9 advantage. Kissinger then hit a three-pointer with 3:20 left to give the Huskers their biggest lead of the game. Purdue responded with a 9-0 run, capped by a pair of three-pointers that gave the Boilermakers an 18-13 lead heading into the second quarter.
Kissinger threw up a deep three-pointer at the buzzer to try and trim the deficit, but the ball ended up wedged between the rim and the backboard. The shot summed up Nebraska’s first quarter shooting woes, as the Huskers shot 5-14 in the period, including 1-6 from beyond the arc.
Purdue did not slow down at the beginning of the second quarter. The Boilermakers hit two more three-pointers in the first 45 seconds, prompting a Nebraska timeout. Junior guard Nicea Eliely hit two free throws to stop the run, but the Huskers were unable to make a run of their own. Throughout the quarter, Nebraska never came any closer than eight points and trailed 40-30 at halftime.
What killed the Huskers in the first quarter gave them life in the second. Nebraska shot 3-4 from distance in the second quarter, with the Huskers’ last nine points of the quarter coming from beyond the arc.
Freshman forward Leigha Brown hit the final shot of the quarter for Nebraska, giving her a team-leading nine points at halftime. Otherwise, the Huskers struggled offensively in the half, shooting 33.3 percent from the field.
Purdue played surprising well on offense in the first half, shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three. The Boilermakers also controlled the glass, holding a 23-15 rebounding advantage over Nebraska at halftime.
Nebraska came out of the break with better energy. Eliely began the third quarter by deflecting a pass and taking it all the way for a fastbreak layup. Cain followed with a hook shot to pull the Huskers within six. After Purdue responded with a jumper from sophomore guard Tamara Farquhar, Cain struck again. The 6-foot-5 center drained a long jumper from the top of the key to cut the deficit to six again. The shot was inches away from being her first career three-point attempt, but her right foot was on the line.
Purdue proceeded to keep the Huskers at bay, responding with an 8-0 run that gave the Boilermakers their biggest lead of the game at 50-36.
Nebraska kept fighting, but a three-pointer from sophomore guard Lyndsey Whilby at the buzzer kept the Purdue lead at 13.
Harris showed her defensive prowess in the third quarter, anchoring Purdue’s defensive effort with two blocks.
In the second matchup of the year between Nebraska and Purdue, the Huskers outscored the Boilermakers 25-13 in the fourth quarter to complete an eight-point comeback win 67-61. To win this game and advance in the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska needed an even bigger comeback.
With 6:24 to go in the final period, Whitish hit a three which cut the Purdue lead to 64-57. However, Purdue responded with four straight points to bring the advantage back to double digits.
The Huskers were relentless, as Kissinger hit another three-pointer a few possessions later to make it an eight-point game. Senior forward Maddie Simon scored a layup on the next possession as well, bringing the score even closer.
Harris had the chance to respond on Purdue’s next possession as she went to the line for two free throws. She hit the first, but was unable to convert on the second. Farquhar grabbed the offensive rebound and got it back to Harris, who went to the line again. However, she missed both free throws this time, leaving the door open for Nebraska.
Kissinger and Whitish took advantage of the opportunity, nailing back-to-back threes to cut the Purdue lead to 69-68 with 1:56 left in the game. On the next possession, sophomore guard Karissa McLaughlin missed a three, but Oden grabbed the offensive board and scored a layup to extend the lead to three.
Nebraska came back down the court on the ensuing possession, needing to make something happen. Freshman forward Kayla Mershon forced up a tough layup, but could not get it to drop. Harris grabbed the rebound, and hit a dagger from mid-range with 49 seconds to go.
Eliely tried to get some momentum going for the Huskers on the next possession with a layup, but Harris rejected it and tied the school record for blocks. Nebraska missed three more shots on that same possession before Mershon grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled. Mershon missed the first free throw, but hit the second to make it a four-point game.
Nebraska had to foul three times on Purdue’s next possession before the Boilermakers were in the bonus. The Huskers had the chance to foul Harris, who was a 69 percent free-throw shooter, but she passed it out to McLaughlin, a 90 percent shooter from the stripe. McLaughlin hit both, giving the Boilermakers a 75-69 lead.
Nebraska showed a confusing lack of urgency on its final possession, standing around and dribbling the clock out until Haiby made a move and hit a jumper with a second left.
Purdue inbounded the ball as the buzzer sounded, sealing the upset win. The Boilermakers will have another upset in mind as they move on to face third-seeded Rutgers tomorrow.
Purdue outperformed Nebraska offensively, shooting 44.6 percent while the Huskers shot just 38.5 percent. The Boilermakers also were dominant on the boards throughout, out-rebounding Nebraska 44-36.
Nebraska also ended up on the wrong side of history in this game, as it was the first time in Women’s Big Ten Tournament history that all the quarterfinal games ended in upsets
The loss also ended any tournament hopes Nebraska may have had. The Huskers’ only hope to make the NCAA Tournament was to win the Big Ten Tournament, as there is little to no chance they are selected with a 14-16 record.
The Huskers’ WNIT hopes were sunk as well, as the WNIT requires participants to have a record over .500. Nebraska also could have made it in if Ohio State won the Big Ten, as the WNIT offers an automatic bid to the highest ranking conference team that doesn’t make the NCAA tournament. However, the Buckeyes also fell victim to an upset, losing to Wisconsin.
As the season comes to an end for Nebraska women’s basketball, there is a lot to look forward to. The Huskers return nine players, and will add three incoming freshmen next year. With the majority of the roster being underclassmen, Nebraska is primed to take advantage of its mixture of youth and experience to be a competitor in the Big Ten next year.