Defense wins games, just as it did today for the Nebraska women’s basketball team.
After a close loss to Michigan earlier this week, the Huskers bounced back in a big way Sunday as they defeated No. 23 Michigan State 68-64.
The Huskers once again came out strong defensively to start the game Nebraska’s defensive acuity to start out the game has been crucial in establishing itself early, and a key part of the Huskers’ good run of form, according to head coach Amy Williams.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of just buying in and focusing on player tendencies and taking away things that we want,” Williams said pregame.
Redshirt sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin led the way for Nebraska’s offense early, knocking down a 3-pointer early in the first quarter to go along with a couple buckets around the rim. In all, the Huskers’ half-court offense early in the game was efficient and quick, due in no small part to the contribution of Scoggin.
Sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne also came out hot, as she drilled a three with under a minute to play in the quarter. Her efforts also included easy points in the paint and great defense on the Spartan bigs. The Huskers, as a result, led for the first time all season at the end of a first quarter, a 20-16 advantage that signaled a good omen for the rest of the game.
Freshman guard Ruby Porter started the second quarter right for the Huskers, banging in a 3-pointer to continue Nebraska’s positive momentum. The Huskers were able to keep their distance from Michigan State for the entirety of the second period, opening an advantage as great as 10 courtesy of a 3-pointer from junior guard Sam Haiby.
Husker junior forward Bella Cravens scored two quick layups towards the end of the half, and Porter banked-in a miraculous 3-pointer with 38 seconds remaining in the first half as the shot clock expired. It was the last points of a surprising first half for the Huskers, a half that saw Nebraska take a 39-30 advantage into the locker room.
The Huskers finished the half with 15 assists on 16 made shots, a high ratio. The Spartans finished the half only up one in the rebounding department, 17-18, with Haiby coming up with seven of them for the Huskers.
A rejuvenated Spartans team exploded into the second half, with junior guard Nia Clouden, Michigan State’s leading scorer entering Sunday’s contest, hitting a jumper after only making one in the first half. It kickstarted an 8-0 Spartan run, which cut Nebraska’s lead to 39-38 and forced a timeout from Williams with 6:53 remaining in the third quarter.
Following the timeout, Nebraska went back to what had proven to work earlier in the game. The Huskers exposed the Michigan State paint, as Cravens was left wide open for a layup to stop the bleeding and extend the Husker lead to three.
The Spartans responded with another run, this of the 6-0 variety. And, unlike the last second-half run Michigan State went on, this helped give the Spartans a lead. Clouden found sophomore guard Alyza Winston for a layup with 4:40 left in the third quarter, and Michigan State found itself holding a lead it would keep through the remainder of the third quarter. Sloppy play endured as the third quarter drew to a close, and the Spartans held a 48-47 advantage over the Huskers.
Once again to start the quarter, the Spartans left a Husker wide open in the paint, this time Bourne, as she got an easy bucket to bring her total up to 16 points early in the fourth quarter.
Down four with six minutes to play, the Huskers got a much needed basket after three consecutive offensive rebounds, which was followed up by a Cain layup that tied the game at 58-58 with 4:53 remaining.
Back and forth both teams went trading baskets as Clouden got two jumpers to fall in a row, getting her up to 14 points in the game after only scoring three in the first half. Cain continued her clutch legacy and got a layup to go, as the Husker lead was only three points with about a minute to go in the game.
After Haiby went one for two from the line and pushed the Husker lead to four, the Spartans called another timeout to draw up something on offense. This was to no avail as the Huskers played tight defense and Scoggin came away with the ball, being fouled by Clouden afterward.
With Scoggin then going one for two from the line, a rarity from a player who is a very good free throw shooter statistically, the Huskers lead was pushed to five followed by yet another Spartan timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Cook forced a three pointer and missed, leading to a big offensive rebound and a put back by Michigan State freshman forward Kendall Bostic, bringing the lead to just two points with 15 seconds remaining.
Out of timeouts, Cravens got fouled and was sent to the line, where she missed both attempts.
Winston dribbled the ball down with just a few seconds left before pulling up for a game tying three which got blocked by Cain, leading to a rebound by Cravens and two more big free throws by freshman guard Whitney Brown, sealing the victory for the underdog Huskers at the final buzzer, 68-64.
“I want to take credit for that but that was just an instinctive, good basketball play by Kate Cain,” Williams said.
Nebraska will look to continue its positive momentum when it faces undefeated, No. 16 Ohio State on Jan. 16. The Huskers have looked extremely competitive in conference play in 2021, and if Nebraska turns in another stellar defensive effort, it could upend a strong Buckeyes squad.