Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Defense down the stretch secures NU’s first Big Ten home win
Nebraska was determined to make Megan Gustafson “work for her points” in Tuesday night’s matchup with No. 20 Iowa.
The Hawkeyes leading scorer did just that, and wound up with 29 points and 18 rebounds, yet it still was not enough to avoid the upset, as the Huskers (13-6, 4-2) added a statement win at home to their “road warrior” mentality when they dropped Iowa 74-65 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Maddie Simon led three Huskers in double figures with 19 points, including three 3-pointers, and the Huskers built enough of a lead to hold off the Hawkeyes. Despite hitting just 4 of 10 from the free throw line in the final minute, Nebraska forced five empty possessions from Iowa to end the game, and pulled the upset for NU’s first home win of Big Ten action.
After an overtime loss to No. 23 Michigan on Saturday, the Huskers avoided letting another upset slip away thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Simon in the fourth quarter and the clutch play of Hannah Whitish. Whitish opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, and finished with 18 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
One of those steals came just moments after Whitish set up Simon for her first ‘3’ when Whitish jarred the ball loose, dove on the floor to gain control and called timeout. Following a pair of free throws by Nicea Eliely, Whitish again found Simon for a 3-pointer, and pushed the lead out to 64-53 with 4:44 to play.
Iowa (15-4, 3-3) chipped away, with a Kathleen Doyle jump shot cutting the edge to 67-63 with 1:26 on the clock. It was the closest the Hawkeyes got at any point during the second half, but Nebraska quickly answered back thanks to Jasmine Cincore.
Although Cincore did not score over the first 38 minutes, that didn’t stop the senior from cutting to the hoop as Iowa tried to force a turnover. Cincore avoided Gustafson to convert the scoop layup, and drew contact after the shot to set up a three-point play. It was Gustafson’s fifth foul, and put Nebraska ahead 70-63 with 1:21 left.
“I think this is a really good win for our team,” said NU coach Amy Williams. “A really exciting win for our team. I feel like we’re finally able to get over the hump.
“This is going to be very very helpful with giving us another shot in the arm. We had another tough loss here a couple of nights ago against Michigan, and to actually get over the hump and get a win will give us another shot of confidence.”
Nebraska took control by taking advantage of a frantic pace on either side of halftime. The media break in the second quarter didn’t come until the 2:57 mark in the second quarter, with the two teams combining for seven subs at that stoppage.
Williams said that despite players requesting to come out multiple times with subs waiting at the table, her team was able to take advantage of the tempo and use Iowa’s limited roster to put Nebraska ahead early. Iowa has used just eight players in Big Ten play due to injury, and was unable to keep with NU as the game opened up.
Whitish went on a personal 5-0 run to put Nebraska ahead 29-24 at that media timeout. The Huskers then scored 8 of the final 10 points in the half to go up 37-28 at half. After the break, NU scored the first two baskets, then answered a pair of Gustafson baskets with a 6-0 spurt to stretch the lead to 47-32.
The 15-point edge was the largest lead of the game, and forced Iowa to switch to a zone defense to try and keep the tempo under control and cut off NU’s offensive rhythm.
By the end of the third quarter, Iowa had the lead back down to 53-47. Nebraska hit just 1 of 8 from the field after Iowa made the switch to the zone, which allowed the Hawkeyes to slow the pace and grind out an 8-for-16 effort from the field in the third quarter.
“I thought we got a little stagnant, but Maddie sparked us with a couple of big baskets that really gave us that offensive punch that we needed to give us that cushion,” Williams said.
The win gives Nebraska its first road win since Dec. 19 against Florida Atlantic, while the matchup with Iowa marked the third-straight home game against a ranked conference foe. Next up is another ranked opponent, when NU will put its 7-game road win streak on the line against No. 25 Rutgers this Sunday.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. in a game that will be available on BTN Plus.