The Nebraska women’s basketball team lost in heartbreaking fashion, falling to Northwestern 58-54 Thursday night.
The game was expected to be a close one between the conference foes, and it lived up to its standards.
To begin the game, Nebraska seemed like it would pick up where it left off in its previous win. Junior guard Nicea Eliely, who had a career high six steals last game, racked up another one on the first possession leading to a three-pointer from junior guard Hannah Whitish.
From there, everything went south offensively. After seven minutes of action, Nebraska had only scored six points, with both of the Huskers’ makes coming off of three-pointers. By the end of the quarter, Nebraska had just 11 points on 4-17 shooting.
Thankfully for the Huskers, Northwestern wasn’t able to find a rhythm either. The Wildcats scored nine points in the first quarter on 4-15 shooting, along with six turnovers. The lone offensive highlights for Northwestern came from star sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, who still only managed five points in the period.
Pulliam first got on the board after picking off a Nebraska pass at half-court and then pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Her next bucket didn’t come until the end of the quarter, when she hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to bring the score to 11-9.
In the second quarter, both teams had offensive struggles of their own. Nebraska only scored 10 points in the quarter on 3-11 shooting, and added six turnovers in the period. Sophomore guard Taylor Kissinger, who came into the game shooting 49.5 percent from distance, went 0-4 from three.
Northwestern stepped it up slightly offensively, but also had struggles of its own. The Wildcats scored 16 points on 6-17 shooting in the period to take a 25-21 halftime lead, helped by a pair of three-pointers from sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton.
In the end, the story of the half was Northwestern’s defense and rebounding. This effort was led by senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah. Kunaiyi-Akpanah racked up 13 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, and two blocks in the half and was all over the place deflecting and contesting shots.
In the third quarter, it seemed that Northwestern would pull away. Pulliam started out the quarter by making a three-pointer, and by the four-minute mark the Wildcats built a 10-point lead.
However, Nebraska did not give up and fought back, as freshman forward Leigha Brown hit a layup to tie the game with just over a minute left in the quarter. Pulliam quickly silenced the crowd on the next possession, hitting an and-one jumper to cap off her 10-point quarter. Pulliam scored all but two of Northwestern’s 12 third quarter points, as the Wildcats took a 37-34 lead into the final period.
“I think we did a better job screening for her,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “Getting her the ball in better places.”
Northwestern started the fourth quarter strong as well, as Northwestern scored the first five points to take an eight-point lead. As usual, Nebraska was not shaken and began another comeback push.
With just over five minutes left, Nebraska freshman guard Sam Haiby hit an and-one layup to bring the score to 45-47. Northwestern hit a shot on the other end, but Kissinger answered with her first three-pointer of the game to make it just a one-point game.
With under two minutes remaining in the game, Northwestern held a 53-50 lead, but Nebraska had possession of the ball. After an offensive rebound, Whitish launched a deep three to tie the game and get the crowd going.
On the next Northwestern possession, Eliely was the one to come up big. With 37.8 seconds left, she stole the ball and was fouled, which sent her to the line for two free throws. The first one bounced around the rim and fell off, but she hit the second to give the Huskers a 54-53 lead. With all of the momentum going in their favor, Nebraska seemed like it would win the game and complete yet another fourth quarter comeback in conference play.
However, Kunaiya-Akpanah had other plans. On the ensuing possession, she used a series of post moves to get to the basket and hit the eventual game-winner, giving Northwestern a 55-54 lead.
With 6.4 seconds to go, Nebraska had one last shot at tying the game. After a broken play, Whitish attempted to lob a pass to Kissinger near half-court, but it was picked off by Jordan Hamilton who would make one free throw and seal the game at 58-54.
“We missed a screen to try to get Taylor open at the top, but we made a soft, nonchalant pass that they stole,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said.
Kunaiyi-Akpanah ended the game with a double-double, scoring 10 points and bringing down 19 rebounds, including 10 offensive rebounds.
“She’s very aggressive,” freshman forward Kayla Mershon said. “I don’t know in the end how many O Rebounds she had, but she was always attacking, very aggressive.”
Pulliam led the game in scoring with 21 points on 9-17 shooting, and added eight rebounds.
Nebraska had major offensive struggles in this game, shooting 29.2 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range.
For the Huskers, Whitish was a bright spot. She scored 12 points on 4-11 shooting, and added four rebounds and four assists.
Nebraska and Northwestern have been no strangers to close game like these, and that is just what you get when you play in the Big Ten.
“You’re a bucket away from being undefeated,” McKeown said, “and a bucket away from being under .500 in this league too.”
Despite playing in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, Nebraska is not making any excuses for their underwhelming performances.
“Our preseason schedule set us up to win these games, so we just have to take that big next step,” Whitish said.
Nebraska will have the chance to take that next step next game, as it will travel to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers at 2 p.m. on Sunday.