The best story from the Nebraska women’s basketball team’s upset win against 15th-ranked Northwestern on Thursday was, of course, Sam Haiby scoring the winning basket at the buzzer.
That gave the Huskers a 65-63 victory in Nebraska’s first win against a top-15 win in six years. It also ended a three-game losing streak and got the Huskers back to a .500 record in the Big Ten at 2-2.
And a few hours after the New Year’s Eve game, Haiby’s shot got the No. 1 spot on the ESPN top-10 plays of the day on “SportsCenter.”
The most fun behind-the-scenes story of the day happened a few minutes before Haiby’s winning basket.
With about 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Haiby had gone down with a severe cramp in her calf. After some quick work with athletic trainer Ashley Rudolph, Haiby was ready to go back in the game with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
When she was ready, Haiby went back to her chair on the Nebraska bench. With the new setup on the Husker bench — the chairs are each several feet from each other due to COVID-19 precautions — Haiby was a long way from view of the Husker coaches. So strength coach Stuart Hart told Haiby to get up and go in the game. Stuart correctly surmised that the coaches would like the team’s leading scorer in the game for the final 2 minutes if she was able.
So Haiby told assistant coach Chuck Love she was ready, and he quickly told Haiby to check in the game. Then Haiby asked Love whom she should go in for?
Love’s response: "Anybody!"
“That was funny. Everyone was laughing,” Haiby said. “The scorer’s table was laughing, too.”
On Nebraska’s injury-depleted roster, that may have been Love’s response to any of Nebraska's guards, but especially Haiby. She leads the Huskers in scoring (16.1 per game), rebounding (7.4) and assists (3.7).
She’s one of Nebraska’s best players at creating a scoring chance with her drives to the basket, and with the game on the line you’d want Haiby in the game.
On the winning basket, Haiby got her own rebound on the right side of the hoop and quickly got off a shot high off the backboard with about 0.5 seconds left in the game.
“I kind of just chased my miss and put something at the rim, and it fell in for us,” Haiby said. “I wouldn’t say I practice it, but it wasn’t super-unorthodox either.”
Later that evening, ESPN chose it as the No. 1 play of the day, and an ESPN anchor was animated when explaining what Haiby had done.
“(Haiby) missed the scoop shot, but she’s going to stay with it and try to put in her own rebound before time expires,” the ESPN anchor said. “Wow! What a shot! Sam! Wow, look at this tough angle; she does it perfectly. Nebraska, winner, winner.”
The news got to Haiby quickly that she’d made “SportsCenter.”
“That was pretty cool,” Haiby said. “Not everyone can say they’ve been on ‘SportsCenter’ top 10. That was pretty awesome. Especially because we got the win, too.”
There was a chance Haiby would have had to watch the end of the game from the bench. She’d never had a cramp during a game before.
“It was pretty intense for a little bit there,” Haiby said.
The staff was working like a NASCAR pit crew to give Haiby a chance to return to the game. Haiby was on a training table behind the bench, and got heat on her calf and a massage. Stuart was able to find some pickle juice at the arena for Haiby to drink, which can aid with recovery from a cramp.
“Stu brought me some pickle juice, so I drank that real quick and got back out there,” Haiby said.
Haiby scored four of her team-high 19 points after returning to the game.
“That’s a couple of big buckets down the stretch, and shows the warrior that she is,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams.
Now Nebraska will try to use the win to get the season back on track, starting with Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest against Rutgers (5-2, 1-2 Big Ten).
“I just hope it shows us that we can play,” Haiby said. “We can play with some of the top teams as long as we can stay hooked up and stay together through four quarters.”
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