LINCOLN — Sam Haiby could have let the ball go out of bounds or even back to her opponent. The Nebraska women’s basketball team held a double-digit lead at the time, and the third-quarter clock was running out.
But Haiby, almost like a receiver in football, kept running, grabbed it before it went out of bounds, controlled her body to stay inbounds and hit a breakaway layup that brought fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena to their feet.
“When you’re on the court, you just go with the flow and keep playing hard,” Haiby said after NU’s 65-50 win over Wisconsin that was just ugly enough to be pretty. The Huskers overcame 16 turnovers and 17 fouls with a burly performance against a Wisconsin team that boasted a big frontcourt.
And when it was time to bust free of the Badgers, Nebraska (13-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) did it with a 14-0 run over the third and fourth quarters that left Wisconsin coach Jonathan Tsipis so frustrated he called two timeouts in the span of a minute.
Consider those timeouts fruits of Nebraska’s labor. After crushing Minnesota on the boards last week, Nebraska beat Wisconsin 38-28 on Thursday. It was one stat, against the slow-poke Badgers, coach Amy Williams figured her team had to win, and it did.
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“I’m glad they kicked it in,” said Williams, who added that her team’s hustle in wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin was good.
Sophomore guard Leigha Brown, who led Nebraska in scoring with 15 points, said the Huskers had turned up their effort since a 78-70 overtime loss at Michigan State.
“The past couple games have definitely been a lot better,” Brown said. “Toward the beginning of the season and in the middle, we had trouble finishing plays, getting those 50/50 balls. In these past couple games, we’ve done that, and that’s been the difference-maker.”
Four Huskers had at least four rebounds, and true freshman Issie Bourne led the way with eight. She scored a career-high 11 points, too, spelling starters Kate Cain and Ashtyn Veerbeek, both of whom were saddled with foul trouble much of the night. Bourne played more minutes (24) than both and got hearty applause from the 3,954 at Pinnacle Bank Arena for her play.
“In a game like this, it’s huge, because we knew they had some bigs doing a really good job on the boards, and I think Issie did a great job cleaning it up,” Haiby said.
Brown and Bourne were key in a first half in which Nebraska built a 30-21 halftime lead. After Wisconsin (9-6, 1-3) took an early 10-5 lead, NU went on an 11-0 run over the next five minutes of the first quarter, during which Brown scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers. NU led 16-12 after one quarter. Nebraska’s second-quarter lead grew as big as 11 on three occasions.
Although three NU posts — Cain, Veerbeek and Kayla Merhson — picked up two fouls in the first half, Wisconsin only attempted four free throws over the first 20 minutes of the game. Bourne was a key reason, finishing the half with four points and five rebounds.
But the Badgers, led by Imani Lewis’ 18 points and 10 rebounds, stayed within 10 points for much of third quarter until a late Husker burst gave NU a 48-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Haiby, who finished with 11 points and seven assists, provided the punctuation play.
Nebraska then scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, prompting two timeouts — in one minute — from Tsipis, who inserted a raft of reserves after the second timeout. He didn’t like how some of his seniors played a few possessions.
“If I’ve learned anything as a head coach, you don’t get to take timeouts home with you and use them in the next game,” Tsipis said. “So I could use that as a teaching opportunity. I wanted to try and do that, especially with our young kids.”
Williams’ key teaching moments came in the days after the loss to Michigan State, where Nebraska squandered a late lead and let a poor-shooting Spartan team bully them for 22 offensive rebounds. Brown said Williams has been trying to convey messages about hustle all season. A loss that keeps NU out of a share of first place with Indiana stung.
“Something just clicked that, if we want to reach our potential as a team, then we’re going to have to do that, the little things,” Brown said.
Little things loom large in Nebraska’s next two games — both on the road — at 13-2 Rutgers and 11-4 Maryland. The Scarlet Knights are first up on Sunday, followed by the Terrapins on Jan. 16. The games coincide with the first week of spring semester classes.
After a month in the Midwest, it’s two long trips to the East Coast.
“It’d definitely be nice to just stay there and not come back,” Brown joked about the two games.
Wisconsin (9-6, 1-3).........12 9 14 15—50
At Nebraska (13-2, 3-1)....16 14 18 17—65
UW: Van Leeuwen 2-4 0-0 5, Laszewski 1-7 1-2 3, Beverley 2-8 1-1 6, Hilliard 3-9 3-4 9, Lewis 8-16 2-3 18, Gilreath 3-5 0-0 7, Pospisilova 0-2 0-0 0, Bragg 0-1 0-0 0, Stauffacher 0-3 0-0 0, Stapleton 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 20-56 7-10 50.
NU: Whitish 3-10 0-0 8, Haiby 4-7 2-2 11, Eliely 2-5 0-0 4, Veerbeek 3-6 0-0 7, Cain 3-7 0-0 6, Brady 0-1 1-2 1, Brown 6-10 1-1 15, Bourne 5-10 0-0 11, Mershon 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 27-56 4-5 65.
3-point field goals: UW 3-10 (Van Leeuwen 1-1, Beverley 1-2, Hilliard 0-1, Gilreath 1-3, Stauffacher 0-3), NU 7-20 (Whitish 2-8, Haiby 1-3, Eliely 0-1, Veerbeek 1-3, Brown 2-3, Bourne 1-2).
Rebounds: UW 28 (Lewis 10), NU 38 (Bourne 8). Assists: UW 10 (Van Leeuwen 4), NU 17 (Haiby 7).