It wasn’t difficult to figure out how the Nebraska women’s basketball team was shooting three-pointers during the first three quarters of Sunday’s game against Minnesota. Nebraska hadn’t made any threes on seven attempts, shooting 0 percent.
But during a big fourth quarter, Nebraska flipped that category, and along with some shutdown defense, Nebraska rallied for a 63-57 win against the 23rd-ranked Gophers in front of 4,072 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
That gives Nebraska (9-9, 4-3 Big Ten) its first win against a ranked opponent this season, and ends a streak where Nebraska had seven straight losses in games against ranked teams over two seasons. Nebraska's last win against a ranked team was on Jan. 21, 2018, against No. 25 Rutgers.
Amy Williams: Great fourth quarter, great win: pic.twitter.com/fdAbLZHCAr
— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) January 21, 2019
Nebraska made four three-pointers on nine attempts in the fourth quarter. That allowed Nebraska to outscore the Gophers 25-11 in the fourth quarter, including a 12-0 run to end the game. Nebraska hadn’t scored more than 12 points in any of the first three quarters.
So Nebraska was able to finish the game 4-of-16 on threes for 25 percent shooting.
Why did the Nebraska players keep pulling the trigger on threes after so many earlier misses?
“Shooters got to shoot,” said Taylor Kissinger, one of the best three-pointer shooters in the nation who made 2-of-3 three-point attempts in the fourth quarter.
“They’re bound to go in sometimes,” said Hannah Whitish, who was 2 for 4 on threes in the fourth quarter
Nebraska trailed by eight points to start the fourth quarter. Kissinger made the three that tied the game at 57 with 3 minutes remaining in the game. After that Ashtyn Veerbeek blocked a shot that led to two made free throws by Whitish for the go-ahead points. Minnesota did not score for the final 3:52 of the game.
Freshman Sam Haiby led Nebraska with 16 points while playing against her home state team. Whitish added 12, and Kissinger had nine.
Haiby did most of her work on drives to the basket, which also may have helped Nebraska’s three-point shooters get a little more room to work in the fourth quarter.
“I just seemed like there were a couple of times where we were able to loosen up our shooters,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams of the fourth-quarter threes. “A couple of well-executed plays where we were able to get Taylor or Hannah off some flare screen action, and they stuck those shots.”
At the same the Huskers were making threes, Nebraska’s switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense was making things difficult for the Gophers. Leading the way for that defense was Nicea Eliely who had five of her career-best six steals in the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Nebraska forced seven turnovers and blocked two shots.
“The zone was tough,” said Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen, the former WNBA star who has two Olympic Gold medals and a high school gym named for her in her hometown. “They have really long kids out there at the top and they’re able to get deflections and force us into some tough shots. Credit to them for going to that, and their ability to turn us over us and make us take some tough shots.”
Nebraska made the switch to the zone defense to slow down Kenisha Bell. She led the Gophers (13-5, 2-5 Big Ten) with 16 points, but made just one field goal in the final quarter.
Nebraska had used that zone defense previously, but never to this level of success.
“This was the biggest game that we were able to turn just by making some changes defensively,” Williams said.
Minnesota dominated rebounding 43-24, but Nebraska was able to overcome that by forcing 17 turnovers and making 15 of 18 free throws.