Coming off of a big win against Northwestern, Nebraska women’s basketball kept its foot on the pedal.
The Huskers won their second game in a row on Sunday, taking down Rutgers 53-50.
Stifling defense from both sides in the beginning minutes of the game led to both teams shooting just under 30% in the first period, as the Scarlet Knights took just a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter over the Huskers, 13-12.
Husker sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne struggled early from behind the arc, as she shot 0-of-5 in the first quarter from the 3-point line. However, she made up for those misses by getting a couple easy buckets towards the end of the quarter.
Redshirt senior guard Arella Guirantes also had a very rough start to the game for the Scarlet Knights, shooting 0-of-9 in the first half, an uncharacteristic showing from last year’s Big Ten scoring leader.
Guirantes made more of a difference on the defensive end, coming away with two blocks and a steal in the first half. The rest of the team’s defensive aggressiveness backfired in the second quarter, as the Scarlet Knights picked up four fouls in a span of 33 seconds. These all came on one Nebraska possession, which eventually ended in a turnover.
Junior forward Bella Cravens and junior guard Sam Haiby led the way for the Huskers in the first 20 minutes, combining for 12 points and four offensive rebounds.
Haiby, who hit a game-winning layup to take down Northwestern in Nebraska’s last game, pulled off some late-quarter heroics once again. To end the half, she made a layup to give the Huskers a 24-23 lead going into the break.
Both teams shot a combined 1-of-17 from the 3-point line in the first half, with the Huskers going 0-of-10 and shooting a lackluster 33.3% from the field.
Haiby came into the third quarter still energized offensively, getting an and-one on a drive to give Nebraska a 29-27 lead. Following two Rutgers free throws, redshirt sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin made consecutive 3-pointers before freshman guard Whitney Brown added another to give the Huskers their biggest lead of the day at 38-29.
The Huskers held Rutgers to one made field goal going into the under-5 media timeout, with Haiby and Bourne doing an impressive job guarding Guirantes in man-to-man situations. This helped to mute one of the Big Ten’s premier weapons, as Guirantes continued to struggle from the floor shooting.
“I thought she [Isabelle Bourne] did a great job just being solid and steady and legitimately having really good help defense,” Nebraska women’s basketball head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “...Just really, really proud of Isabelle and the way she's bucked up.”
Following Brown’s 3-pointer, Rutgers bounced back with an 11-1 run to end the quarter. Junior forward Tekia Mack hit a 3-pointer of her own with 1:42 left in the period to cut the deficit to one point, and the Scarlet Knights scored again off of a Nebraska turnover to take a 40-39 lead going into the final frame.
The game’s last quarter was similar to the start of the game. The two teams decided to hunker down and aggressively harass each other’s ball handlers and shooters.
However, the combined efforts of Haiby and Scoggin broke the deadlock. The two scored a quick seven points and put the Huskers up 47-44 with 6:34 left to go in the game. This sudden change forced Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer to call a timeout and regroup.
In a battle of defensive might, Nebraska outlasted Rutgers. With just twenty seconds left and Nebraska leading by a single point, Bourne forced Guirantes into taking a poor contested fadeaway that missed. After two Nebraska free throws extended the lead to 53-50, Guirantes missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the contest.
Bourne, Haiby and Scoggin scored all 13 of Nebraska’s points in the fourth quarter. The latter duo also scored 21 of Nebraska’s 29 second-half points.
“Great, great team effort, timely baskets from Sam Haiby and Whitney Brown, and Ashley Scoggin, I could just go on and on,” Williams said.
Freshman guard Diamond Johnson led the way for Rutgers as she finished with 19 points, one of the few positives for the Scarlet Knights on offense throughout the day.
“The coaches just put a lot of confidence in me which has been a big thing the entire year, especially playing out of position, the confidence I’ve gotten from them has allowed me to kind of play the way I want to play,” Bourne said postgame. “I had a lot of help from my teammates today, calling screens and helping me out on Arella, especially Kate making her change her shot under the basket.”
Rutgers on the season averaged 85 points per game coming into the matchup, but was held to just 50 points on 32.8% shooting, while also only going 2-of-16 from behind the arc. The Scarlet Knights hadn’t been held to under 70 points once through their first seven games. Guirantes also had her worst offensive performance of the year, scoring eight points on 8-of-24 shooting.
“We knew they were a very high powered offense, it was gonna take a special defensive effort just to try to keep them below that average, but it's beyond my wildest dreams to hold them 35 points below their average so it was a pretty special team defensive effort,” Williams said.
Haiby finished the game with 16 points and five rebounds, picking three of those boards in the second half. Despite the team’s early struggles, Haiby wasn’t concerned.
“To be honest I didn't even know we were 0-for-11 from three to start the game but I think that says something about our team that we are just going to keep on pushing, not let that affect us in any way. We were proud of our defense, holding them to a low scoring game,” Haiby said.