LINCOLN — The positive for Nebraska on Sunday was that it battled all the way back from a 25-point deficit and had the ball with the score tied in the final minute against 18th-ranked Indiana.
The negatives were an awful first quarter that led to that 25-point deficit, plus a couple of possessions in the final minute that coach Amy Williams would like to have back.
It added up to the Huskers’ fourth straight loss, a 57-53 setback at Pinnacle Bank Arena that dealt another blow to their NCAA tournament hopes. They dropped to 15-9, including 5-8 in the Big Ten with their third home defeat in league play.
“I think it’s obvious we can compete with anybody in the Big Ten Conference if we can string together four solid quarters of our best basketball,” Williams said. “So far we haven’t really been consistently doing that.”
The third quarter had been the problem recently, but Sunday the Huskers got the bad one out of the way early. They fell behind 26-6 in the first quarter, hitting 2 of 17 shots and consistently finding themselves a step or two behind on defense against the quick, cohesive Hoosiers.
“They came out and played really fast in transition and kind of punched us in the mouth,” Williams said.
The deficit grew to 36-11 in the second quarter after the Huskers’ sixth turnover. But then they started inching back, fueled by two surprising sources.
Freshman guard Trinity Brady, who averages eight minutes a game, scored five points in a 10-0 run that cut the deficit to 15. Another three points in the run came from freshman guard Makenzie Helms, who had played one minute of one Big Ten game a month earlier.
“We had some great contributions and a little punch from our bench,” Williams said.
The Huskers played some of their best defense of the season in the second half, holding the Hoosiers to 5-of-30 shooting.
“Give them credit for just coming back the way they did,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren, whose team improved to 19-6 and 9-4. “They’ve got some nice pieces. Amy does a terrific job.
“I think the defense was a source of why we had some of those missed shots.”
On offense, the Huskers attacked inside with post players Kate Cain (12 points, five blocked shots) and freshman Isabelle Bourne (seven points, seven rebounds, three blocks).
They cut the deficit to 11 by the end of the third quarter and finally tied it 53-53 with 1:45 left on a putback by senior forward Nicea Eliely.
They got the ball back when Bourne blocked a shot then rebounded a Hoosier airball from 3-point range.
But then their offense broke down on two straight possessions.
On the first, senior guard Hannah Whitish misfired on a no-look pass to Cain on a pick-and-roll.
The Hoosiers responded with a reverse layup by sophomore guard Grace Berger — their only field goal in the final 14 minutes.
Then Indiana scuttled another Nebraska possession, which ended with IU senior Brenna Wise drawing a charging foul on Eliely. Two more Hoosier free throws put the game away.
“There were a few possessions there where we could have executed better down the stretch,” Williams said.
After the game, she said, assistant Tandem Mays told the players that they had turned the corner with their defense in the final three quarters. Again, though, three good quarters weren’t enough.
“I’m glad that we continued to play hard and scratch and claw and fight back,” Williams said. “We put ourselves in position to win the ballgame, and we should have gotten over the hump at the end.”