As the Nebraska women’s basketball season took a turn for the worse in the past month, coach Amy Williams kept pushing forward with hopes that Nebraska would be playing its best when the Big Ten Tournament got here, and for a while that happened.
During Nebraska’s first game in the tournament against Michigan on Thursday, Nebraska played one of its better halves of the season in the first half. But everything changed quickly when Michigan rallied with a big third quarter to beat the Huskers 81-75 in a second-round tournament game in Indianapolis.
It was another disappointing moment for the Huskers. Michigan was one of the teams Nebraska had beaten this season, and it looked like the 10th-seeded Huskers may beat the seventh-seeded Wolverines again. Instead Michigan (20-10) advances and will play Northwestern on Friday.
Nebraska had leads of 14 points early in the second quarter, and eight points at halftime. But as has happened several times this season, a bad quarter cost the Huskers. Michigan outscored Nebraska 24-10 in the third quarter, going from an eight-point deficit to a six-point lead.
Nebraska played really well in the first half, shooting 14-for-28 from the field and scoring 42 points. Four players combined to make six three-pointers.
Sophomore guard Amy Dilk led Michigan with 22 points. But the big difference all game was how much better Michigan was when forward Naz Hillmon was in the game. She finished with 20 points, and dominated the Huskers inside, scoring a few times after one of her six offensive rebounds. She also had five assists.
When Nebraska got its lead in the first half Hillmon was on the bench in foul trouble. Nebraska outscored Michigan 23-6 in a stretch after Hillmon was on the bench after getting her second foul.
But when Michigan's first-team all-conference player returned, the Wolverines made their move.
“Naz is special, and I hope everybody in the country is having an opportunity to see that,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on an interview on the Big Ten Network. “She’s a difference-maker on so many ends. On the defensive end and the offensive end, but especially on the rebounding end. She was upset she was on the bench, and when she got out there there was a fire in her and a refuse-to-lose attitude."
To start the second half Michigan went on a 13-2 run that included making four straight field goals.
What happened to Nebraska in the second half?
“It was a combination of two things,” said Nebraska assistant coach Tom Goehle on the Husker Sports Network. “One is they got more physical with us on the offensive end and we had a hard time executing, and we didn’t get quality shots. And then on the flip side of that they were able to score in the paint."
Michigan outscored Nebraska 50-32 in the paint, and a lot of that was off of offensive rebounds. Michigan had 19 offensive rebounds -- including three on one possession that resulted in points -- and the Wolverines scored 24 second-chance points.
Leigha Brown led Nebraska with 22 points. After Kate Cain got two fouls in the first two minutes of the game Isabelle Bourne played more for Nebraska, and the freshman from Australia had a good game with career highs of 16 points and five blocks. Cain still scored 12 points.
Nebraska had 12 blocked shots. Cain’s three blocks pushed her season total to 101, breaking her own Nebraska single-season record from her freshmen season.
Nebraska (17-13) still has a good chance to be chosen for the WNIT, but will have to wait 11 days for that 64-team field to be announced.
This marks the fourth time in the last five years that Nebraska hasn’t won a game in the Big Ten tourney.
-- Brent C. Wagner
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