Playing good defense is the identity of the Nebraska women’s basketball team, and that’s not changing after Sunday.
The Huskers were able to avoid what would have been a bad loss thanks to a few good stretches on defense in a 51-48 win against Wisconsin in front of a season-best crowd of 6,823 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Wisconsin (9-17, 2-11 Big Ten) was ranked No. 184 in the RPI, so not rallying for the win would have been bad for the Huskers’ NCAA Tournament chances. But now with two weeks left in the regular season, the Huskers (18-7, 9-3 Big Ten) are tied for second place in the Big Ten standings.
Wisconsin had chances to take the lead or win in the final two minutes of the game, but the Huskers kept Wisconsin from scoring for the final 1 minute, 39 seconds of the game.
And on maybe the biggest play of the game, Wisconsin didn’t even get a chance to score because of Nebraska’s defense.
After NU missed a field goal with 29 second left in the game, Wisconsin trailed 49-48 and had a chance to tie or win the game. But NU defended tough for about 18 seconds, causing Wisconsin to call a timeout. Wisconsin was inbounding the ball on the sideline near its basket. But the Nebraska players never gave Wisconsin’s Courtney Fredrickson an opening to pass the ball in play, and Wisconsin was called for a five-second violation, wiping away the Badgers’ best chance to win the game.
Maddie Simon then made two free throws to seal the win.
Simon said the Huskers’ goal when Wisconsin had the ball with 6 seconds left was to play solid defense, talk on screens and not let them get a shot off.
“But that was even better, and really, really huge for us,” said Simon of forcing the five-second violation.
Simon was guarding the ball, and yelling at Fredrickson to try to get in her head.
“That was a great feeling, just knowing that we got a stop, and that we could have the last possession,” Simon said. “It’s never fun to have the last shot to potentially win the game, so that was huge.”
Kate Cain led the Huskers with 14 points and nine rebounds. But with a few of the Huskers' starters not shooting well, the Huskers got a big lift from its bench players. Freshman guard Taylor Kissinger scored 11 points, and Janay Morton had nine. Bria Stallworth hurt her ankle in warmups, but scored the basket in the third quarter that completed the Huskers’ comeback from a 10-point second-quarter deficit.
Kissinger made one of those big three-pointers she’s known for, but also drove to basket for two of her field goals.
“If your shots aren’t falling you got to get to the hoop, that’s what I’ve always thought, so that’s what I started to do, and it worked out,” Kissinger said.
Simon finished with eight points, with six coming in the fourth quarter, when the Huskers outscored Wisconsin 15-10.
Marsha Howard led Wisconsin with 23 points. Howard got Wisconsin off to a great start, scoring eight of the Badgers’ first 10 points of the game.
While Wisconsin was using some speed to get good attempts, Nebraska was struggling. The Huskers went more than seven minutes without scoring over the end of the first quarter and into the second quarter.
Nebraska shot 40 percent from the field for the game, including 4 of 17 on three-pointers. It was the Huskers’ second-lowest scoring game of the season, and 19 points below its season average.
“We certainly are not usually very excited to have 51 points in games, but I thought we got some defensive stops down the stretch when we really needed to, and we’ll take wins in this league any way we can get them,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said.
While the Huskers could have shot it better, they outrebounded Wisconsin 37-30 and scored nine points off of offensive rebounds.
Just like the Nebraska men’s basketball team did on Saturday, the Husker women wore warmup shirts that said, “Hate will never win.” It was important for the women’s team to stand united with the men’s team, Williams aid.
“We feel like our team has been a very good example of what we want to see more of in the world, and that’s just loving and caring,” Williams said. “And not just acceptance of differences, but really cherishing and valuing those differences.”