With three minutes left to go in the game, it seemed like a loss was certain for Nebraska women’s basketball.
After having a lead as big as 13 at one point in the game, the Huskers had allowed Big Ten opponent Minnesota to take the lead with all the momentum on its side.
But despite everything going the Golden Gophers way, Nebraska kept its composure. When the buzzer went off, the Huskers claimed their first conference game of the season and remained undefeated with a 70-67 road win on Monday night.
“It wasn’t pretty,” junior guard Sam Haiby said postgame. “But we’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss. It feels good to start 1-0 in the Big Ten, but we just got to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
Minnesota was led by the duo of junior forward Kadi Sissoko and junior guard Sara Scalia who combined for 45 points in the game.
As for Nebraska, it was the duo of junior forward Bella Cravens and sophomore guard Jaz Shelley that led the way for the Huskers. Both players finished the night with 15 points, which was a season high for Cravens. Cravens also finished the game with seven rebounds, a steal, an assist and a block. Shelley finished with five assists, four rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Haiby was right behind the duo in scoring, dropping 13 points in her home state. 10 of those points for Haiby came in the fourth quarter. Haiby also had six rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.
“We knew Minnesota was a good team and they would be punching,” Nebraska women’s basketball head coach Amy Williams said. “We had to withstand that. Haiby was a big part of that in the fourth.”
Sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne was the other Husker to finish in double digits in scoring, finishing the night with 10 points. Bourne also had a rebound, an assist, a steal and a block.
As a team, the Huskers were 26-of-63 from the field, 4-of-19 in 3-point shooting and 14-of-18 from the free-throw line. The team also finished with 32 rebounds, 18 assists, eight steals and seven blocks.
“This was a very uncharacteristic game for us up to this point,” Williams said. “We didn’t play quite as deep with our lineup or what the game was calling for. But the balance and getting points in the paint was something we’ve been emphasizing.”
After Minnesota got an off-step layup to open up the game, Bourne quickly equalized before Cravens gave her team the lead. Things only continued brewing for the Huskers as Bourne put up yet another layup to make it 6-2 nearly three minutes in. Following two free throws by the Golden Gophers, Bourne drove into the paint once again to push the lead back to 8-4.
With the game 11-8 in Nebraska’s favor, Shelley sparked a 9-0 scoring run. Nebraska ultimately carried that momentum through the remainder of the first quarter, holding a 25-14 lead.
“Early on we played with great pace,” Williams said. “We made great decisions in transition. We were our best tonight. We did both of those things.”
Minnesota ultimately cut the deficit back to single digits however by dropping in a jumper. Nearly three minutes went by before another basket was made, which was a Golden Gophers’ 3-pointer. With the lead 29-24, Shelley and Cravens both delivered a basket to push it to 33-24. Under a minute later, Minnesota unleashed a quick 7-0 run to suddenly make the score 33-31. This would hold as the buzzer hit zero to end the half.
“They did a good job of reading our defense and taking advantage of it,” Williams said. “Scalia and Sissoko both cleared things out and forced us to readjust. Minnesota just stayed aggressive and stayed in attack mode.”
Nebraska held momentum coming out of the locker room, building a lead as great as 10 points before the Golden Gophers began slowly chipping away. Minnesota closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run, setting up a crucial final 10 minutes with the Huskers leading 50-49.
Two minutes went by in the fourth quarter before the first score, which was by Shelley with a 3-pointer. The floodgates then opened. Minnesota hit its own 3-pointer. Haiby and Shelley each took trips to the foul line and went 4-for-4 but Minnesota stayed right behind.
The Golden Gophers then tied the game up with a 3-pointer with just under six minutes left to play. Minnesota then took the lead with a layup with under five minutes left and pushed its lead to 61-57. Cravens and Haiby brought the game to a 61-61 stalemate.
After Minnesota regained the lead with just 2:59 left, Haiby took control of the game. Haiby gave the Huskers the lead back with a layup with a little over two minutes left to play. She would then replicate this 50 seconds later to extend Nebraska’s lead to 66-63. The Golden Gophers brought it to a one-point game yet again as the final minute began.
But Haiby’s run only continued to grow as she put up another layup to push it back to a three-point game. Then after getting a game-clinching rebound, sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin iced the game with one final free throw to give the Huskers the 70-67 win.
“It showed great character for us,” Williams said. “Minnesota has been in a lot of close ball games this season. So they had the upper hand in the experience of the close game. But we just kept fighting, which is what we’ve done in the first nine games of the season.”
With the win, Nebraska remains undefeated with a 9-0 record and is also 1-0 in Big Ten play. The team’s next game will be on Dec. 11 at home against Indiana State. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. and can be viewed on Big Ten Plus or listened to on Huskers Radio Network.