LINCOLN — The best Nebraska post player of Wednesday night got taken out of NU’s 75-62 win over Wisconsin with 35 seconds left. She received a loud ovation from the 5,349 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Most of those fans were on their feet, too.
Allie Havers didn’t notice that she got a standing ovation.
“I did?” she said in NU’s postgame interview room after finishing with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds and her first double-double in the Big Ten. She had no idea.
“I was so into the game,” she said.
Havers needed to be. Freshman center Jessica Shepard — who won national player of the week honors Monday — came back down to earth with eight points, seven rebounds, six assists — and 10 missed shots. Shepard struggled more on defense against Wisconsin’s screen-heavy, quick-cutting offensive scheme.
Freshmen will have those days, which is why juniors like Havers have to remain steady, and why shooters like Natalie Romeo — who scored 30 and again tied her school record with eight 3-pointers — have to keep zipping around well-set screens and firing off jumpers.
“Whatever Natalie’s drinking, we want her to keep drinking the Kool-Aid,” coach Connie Yori said. Romeo is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters, and has been since late last season.
The 6-foot-5 Havers has come further along. Shepard’s presence, in part, has freed up Havers — who gets more open looks because of double teams swarming Shepard — but she’s also become a more accomplished and aggressive rebounder.
Just Tuesday, Yori was praising Havers’ willingness to do “the dirty work.” In NU’s big first quarter Wednesday night — in which the Huskers (15-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten) jumped out to a 26-10 lead they never relinquished — Havers did more dirty work with six early defensive rebounds.
“Allie was great,” Yori said. “Allie’s just playing like a veteran, and it’s fun for me to watch that. It’s fun for all of us. I’m really proud of kids who hang in there and keep persistent. Good things happen to people who keep working.”
Yori has said the same of Romeo, who had eight 3-pointers by the end of the third quarter. More than once, she hit a 3 that kept Wisconsin (6-13, 2-7) at bay after the Badgers had drawn close in the second and third quarters. Romeo’s 3s — and Havers’ efforts — helped overcome Wisconsin shooting 58.5 percent in the second quarter and 61.5 percent in the third quarter.
“Typical of a young team,” Yori said. “You get a lead and then you start playing the scoreboard.”
Wisconsin drew within seven in the third quarter and within eight in the fourth, but go not closer. The Badgers were led by forward Michala Johnson, who scored 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting. She was tough for Shepard to handle. Havers fared better.
Badger coach Bobbie Kelsey praised Romeo’s shooting, suggesting it made a difference during a long, funny rant about the lack of shooting — and practice of shooting — in women’s basketball.
“I’m sure (Romeo) didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a good shooter today,’” Kelsey said. “You gotta get your butt in the gym. Steph Curry shows you that. I saw him in high school. He looked like a 2-year-old out there — but the boy could shoot. And so what’d he do? He kept shooting. So, if people, they’re going to get on the pillowcase, it’s not going to happen. You can’t nap your way to being a great shooter.”
During the offseason, Romeo routinely shot the ball 1,000 times a day.
Havers has put in her own work in the weight room. A dynamic three-sport athlete out of high school, she’s also put in the work to learn basketball’s nuances better than she knew them when she arrived. Havers has also stayed patient, Yori said, which was crucial as she played limited minutes for two seasons.
“There’s a lot of kids who, if you don’t play your first two years, or not (play) much, you’re out of here,” Yori said. “Happens all the time. And (Havers) has been really persistent.”