Nebraska women’s basketball bent but didn’t break as it took down Northwestern 71-64 to win its second straight game Thursday.
The Huskers led by as much as 20 early in the third quarter, but the game got as close as three points down the stretch.
Northwestern (15-12, 8-8 Big Ten) beat Nebraska (13-14, 8-8) in their last matchup, winning 58-54 in Lincoln on Jan. 24. Two players who starred for the Wildcats in that matchup were senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, and this time around was no different. Akpanah had 19 points and 13 rebounds, including six offensive boards, while Pulliam put up 14 points.
Junior guard Hannah Whitish led the charge for Nebraska, scoring 19 points on 7-14 shooting and also adding five assists. Senior forward Maddie Simon also stood out, contributing 15 points on 6-6 shooting and five rebounds.
After Pulliam hit a jumper to begin the game, the Huskers went on a 6-0 run that gave them a 6-2 lead to start the quarter. Nebraska held that lead for the remainder of the quarter, responding to every push Northwestern made.
With eight seconds left in the period, Simon hit a three that gave Nebraska a 20-15 lead going into the second quarter. Junior guard Nicea Eliely had six points in the quarter, while Pulliam had seven on the other side.
Nebraska began to pull away in the second quarter as it went on a 17-6 run through the first seven-and-a-half minutes, creating a 37-21 lead. This run was capped by a three-pointer from sophomore guard Taylor Kissinger. Nebraska didn’t score again until the final seconds, when freshman forward Leigha Brown hit a deep three with a second left to help the Huskers go into the break up 40-26.
In the first half, Nebraska dominated both offensively and defensively. The Huskers shot 58.3 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three, while holding Northwestern to 34.5 percent shooting.
A positive for the Wildcats in the first half was the rebounding game, as they out-rebounded Nebraska 15-13, helped by their seven offensive boards.
Simon had a strong first half for the Huskers, shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field to give her nine points.
For Northwestern, junior center Abbie Wolf led the way with seven points and four rebounds, including three offensive rebounds. Pulliam also had seven points, but missed her last six shots of the quarter after starting 3-4.
Nebraska came out of the half firing. Whitish hit two corner threes to start the quarter, giving Nebraska its biggest lead of the game at 20 points. After Akpanah responded with a jumper, Brown hit two free throws to keep the lead at 20.
Then, Northwestern really began its push. The Wildcats went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 48-38. Akpanah capped off the run by securing an offensive rebound, which turned out to be her 1,000th career rebound, and putting in the layup.
However, Nebraska did not get rattled. With 5:21 left in the quarter, Simon hit a jumper to stop the charge. Less than a minute later, Northwestern was in even more trouble as Akpanah picked up her fourth foul with nearly 15 minutes to go in the game.
The Huskers took advantage of Akpanah sitting on the sidelines, going onto score five quick points and bring the lead up to 17. At the end of the quarter, Nebraska held a 60-44 advantage.
Consistency was key for the Huskers through three quarters, as they had scored 20 points in every period thus far.
In the final quarter, Northwestern took a risk by putting Akpanah back in the game to start the period. The gamble paid off, as Akpanah scored five of the Wildcats’ first seven points of the quarter. She also added five rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block in the first five minutes of the period.
This all-around effort helped Northwestern crawl back into the game. The Wildcats began the quarter on a 16-3 run, which also included two three-pointers from junior forward Abi Scheid.
With 4:53 left, freshman guard Sydney Wood hit a free throw that brought the score to 63-60 in Nebraska’s favor. The Huskers responded yet again, as Whitish hit a jumper on the ensuing possession to keep Northwestern at bay.
After that bucket, both teams struggled to find the bottom of the basket. Neither team scored until the 1:19 mark, when freshman guard Sam Haiby extended Nebraska’s lead to seven with a layup.
However, Nebraska still gave Northwestern chance after chance down the stretch. On the very next possession, Northwestern missed a three which led to a fastbreak. Eliely had an uncontested layup, but missed, which then led to an accidental foul that sent Northwestern freshman guard Veronica Burton to the line.
Burton hit one of two free throws to cut the deficit to 67-61. On the other end, Simon mirrored Burton, hitting only one of her two free throws.
The Wildcats still couldn’t get anything to fall, as they came up empty on the next possession despite repeatedly keeping the possession alive with three offensive rebounds.
After a defensive rebound by Simon put an end to Northwestern’s shooting misery, Haiby sealed the game for good, making two free throws to put Nebraska up 70-61 with 19 seconds left.
Northwestern missed 13 of its last 14 shots, with its only make coming from Akpanah with 10 seconds left, when the game was already wrapped up.
Despite shooting 25 percent in the fourth quarter, Nebraska played an efficient offensive game overall, shooting 50 percent, including 55.6 percent from three. Northwestern struggled from the field, shooting just 37.5 percent, including 29.4 percent from three.
This win follows Nebraska’s 82-71 upset of Michigan State on Sunday. If the Huskers want to continue this winning streak, they will have to pull out another magical performance when they take on No. 10 Iowa.
Tip-off for that game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.