In a game decided by just four points, the Rutgers women’s basketball team was able to score many easy ones off Nebraska turnovers, and that was a big difference in Rutgers’ 69-65 win Sunday in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Rutgers did what it does against a lot of teams — forcing turnovers and turning them into points. The Scarlet Knights scored 21 points off turnovers, accounting for about 30% of their points. Rutgers forced 17 turnovers, including 11 steals, and outscored the Huskers on points off turnovers 21-11. The Knights only had six turnovers.
Rutgers’ defense, which ranks No. 6 nationally, held Nebraska (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) to its second-lowest point total of the season, snapping NU's two-game winning streak. Nebraska and Rutgers (14-2, 4-1) were among four teams tied for second place in the Big Ten standings going into the game.
The end of the game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. Nebraska outscored Rutgers 10-3 in the final minute of the fourth quarter, including a basket with just 4 seconds left. Nebraska kept fouling at the end, and Rutgers kept missing free throws to give the Huskers a chance. The Knights were just 4-for-10 from the free-throw line in the final minute.
Khadaizha Sanders scored 17 points to lead Rutgers. Arella Guirantes, the leading scorer in the Big Ten, added 16.
Ashtyn Veerbeek led the Huskers with 14 points, including making a career-high four three-pointers. Hannah Whitish added 10 points, and Isabelle Bourne had nine points, eight rebounds and one block.
But Nebraska’s three leading scorers this season — Leigha Brown, Sam Haiby and Kate Cain — combined for just 16 points. Cain was held scoreless on five field-goal attempts and didn’t attempt a free throw.
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Nebraska stayed in the game by making 12 threes — tying its season high — but managed just 11 two-point field goals. Nebraska shot a season-low 39.7% (23-58) from the floor.
Rutgers took control when Nebraska went about 4½ minutes without scoring in the third quarter and the Knights stretched a two-point lead to 11.
Nebraska made things interesting in the fourth quarter by going on an 11-0 run to get its deficit to 59-55, but then Sanders made a three to put Rutgers back in control.
Nebraska coach Amy Williams said Rutgers’ defense made things very difficult.
“I thought (Rutgers) was very tough,” said Williams in an interview on the Husker Sports Network. “They forced us into more turnovers than what we’re used to. For us to look at a stat sheet and see a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, that’s never good for us. You have to credit (Rutgers') defense. I thought they did some really good things to try and take us out of any rhythm offensively, and it was just tough all night”
Nebraska had a great start to the game with an 11-2 lead just three minutes into the game. Rutgers was playing full-court defense, but Nebraska was getting good shots and made three of its first four three-point attempts.
Rutgers quickly got back into the game by scoring on five straight possessions as part of an 11-0 run to take a 13-11 lead.
Nebraska led for most of the second quarter before a bad finish to the first half when it had three turnovers in the final 60 seconds of the second quarter that led to Rutgers getting layups. Rutgers finished the second quarter on an 8-0 run, and the Scarlet Knights led at halftime 35-32.
“I think that was a momentum shift,” Williams said. “I was actually grateful that it was halftime and we were breaking right there.”
-- Brent C. Wagner