Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Nebraska outrebounds Michigan and blocked 12 shots to advance
The first time Nebraska played Michigan, an overtime win for the then-No. 23 Wolverines, Hannah Whitish felt the game was “taken” from them.
On Friday night in the Big Ten quarterfinals, Whitish made sure the Huskers took this one, and poured in 10 points in the fourth quarter to guide Nebraska to a 61-54 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
- Husker Hannah Whitish in the fourth quarter: 3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from the free throw line plus two rebounds, two assists and a steal
- NU’s Kate Cain had 7 blocks as part of 12 blocks for Nebraska as a team, both records
- Jasmine Cincore was one of three defenders that rotated on guarding Michigan’s Katelynn Flaherty, and forced 14 missed shots from the unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection despite 17 points
Our goal was not just to beat Michigan and find a way to get into the NCAA Tournament. Our goal is to be Big Ten champions.”
NU Coach Amy Williams
“Coming out here and throwing punches like we did, that was huge for us,” Whitish said,” and
especially to walk out of this gym with that win… Our focus is just coming in and doing what we can in this tournament, and that’s get as many wins as we can.”
With postseason implications on the line, Nebraska put the noise to the side and used that game-by-game focus to take a lead with 2:35 to go in the first quarter, and held it for the rest of the game. Whitish finished with 17 in the game to lead a Nebraska squad that made the plays it needed down the stretch to extend its run in Indianapolis.
“This team really came down to this tournament to make a run to win a championship,” said NU coach Amy Williams. “Our goal was not just to beat Michigan and find a way to get into the NCAA Tournament. Our goal is to be Big Ten champions, and we want to keep going towards that.”
Nebraska built a four-point lead at half, and extended it to 35-27 on a Jasmine Cincore free throw midway through the quarter. That would be as large as the lead would get, though, as a 3:08 scoring drought, plus one of Katelynn Flaherty’s five 3-pointers, cut Nebraska’s lead to 37-33 after three quarters.
That’s when Whitish stepped in.
It started with an assist to Maddie Simon, with Whitish looking toward the corner to freeze the defense before finding a cutting Simon wide open in the paint. A few plays later, Whitish found Nicea Eliely streaking toward the hoop in transition, and the Huskers went ahead 43-39 to keep with an early surge by Michigan.
The Wolverines answered when Hallie Thome scored, plus a foul. That cut the lead to a point for the first time since the first quarter. It stayed that way for 12 seconds. This time Whitish made was on the other end of setup pass, and hit a 3-pointer to push it back to a two-possession game off of an assist by Cincore.
On the next Husker possession, Cincore took the ball to the hoop, leaned into a leaping defender and calmly banked in a layup after knocking Michigan’s Jillian Dunston to the court. Dunston was called for the foul, and the three-point play put NU up by five.
Janay Morton followed that with a steal, which she took in for an uncontested layup, and Nebraska went ahead 51-44 with 5;20 to play. But it wasn’t over yet.
Michigan answered with Flaherty’s final ‘3’ and a layup by Thome to get the lead back down to two. Whitish got a basket to break the momentum, but a pair of free throws by Thome kept the lead at two heading into the final two minutes.
With the shot clock winding down, Whitish found space on the perimeter and drilled her third 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead back to five, before adding two free throws in the final minute as Nebraska pulled away.
“I thought (Whitish’s) play in the fourth quarter was really important,” Williams said. “There was a really big 3-point shot that I know came at a really critical time that I was just proud and happy that she had the courage to take. And then she sparks us in a lot of different ways by just making plays for others, too.”
Thome finished with a game-high 21 points, and Flaherty added a late layup to give her 17 points on 20 shots.
The trio of Eliely (12 points), Cincore (9) and Morton (5) helped the Huskers survive a slow day on offense, but their combined contributions guarding Flaherty made the difference. Cincore also chipped in six rebounds five assists and three blocks as part of an inspired 33-minutes on the court.
Kate Cain made sure Thome had to work for her points, too, and blocked seven shots, which set the record for most blocks in a Big Ten Tournament game. The combined efforts of Cain and Cincore also led NU to 12 blocks as a team, also a record.
Nebraska advances to Saturday’s semifinals with the win, and will take on Maryland for the third time this year and the second time in less than a week. The Huskers missed a shot in the final seconds to fall to the Terrapins 77-75 last Sunday in a game that could have given NU a chance at the Big Ten regular season title.
Now, Nebraska will look for its first win against Maryland with a chance to play for the Big Ten Tournament title on the line. Tipoff is set for 25 minutes after the first Big Ten semifinal on Saturday, between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Minnesota, which starts at 5 p.m. central time.