Husker women find range from behind the arc in fourth quarter to defeat Minnesota

LINCOLN — Amy Williams isn’t ready to declare her team over the hump. The Huskers still make too many mistakes, lose out on too many rebounds and go through frustrating droughts on offense.

But those four minutes at the end of Nebraska’s 63-57 win over No. 23 Minnesota? Perfection.

The Huskers finished the game on a 12-0 run, using a 1-3-1 zone to smother and fluster the Gophers into three straight turnovers. They brought 4,072 at Pinnacle Bank Arena to their feet when guards Hannah Whitish and Taylor Kissinger hit back-to-back 3-pointers and fed off the energy.

“It’s easy to get swept up in that,” Williams said.

The win left four Huskers — including Kissinger and Whitish — laughing and smirking afterward. It’s been a weird season full of close losses. Sunday’s furious fourth-quarter comeback brought NU to 9-9 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten. They looked, collectively, as if a small weight had been lifted.

“It was so much fun to see the smiles on all our faces,” said Kissinger, who scored all nine of her points in the fourth quarter. Minnesota (13-5, 2-5) led 46-38 going into the final 10 minutes but Kissinger’s first 3-pointer six seconds into the fourth cut into the lead.

Minnesota pushed it back to 53-45. New Minnesota coach Lindsey Whalen — a Gopher and WNBA star — seemed content to let her best player, Kenisha Bell, bleed the shot clock and work one-on-one against a defender.

So Williams switched to the zone. She calls it “31,” and it worked magic at game’s end. Nicea Eliely had five steals in the fourth quarter alone.

“Tonight we saw that worked, and they weren’t getting anything out of it, so we went back to it again and again to keep getting stops,” Whitish said, crediting Eliely and freshman guard Sam Haiby, who are the “pirates” in the defense. It’s their job to guard well beyond the 3-point line.

“Their job is hard as heck,” Whitish said. “They have to pick up the ball full court, and it’s awful. And they do so good up there, and we’re so proud.”

Williams has long had the zone in her back pocket, but she has tweaked it over time with tips from NU men’s coach Tim Miles, who uses a 1-3-1 zone defense nearly every game.

“They’ve been incredible resources — Tim and his staff — for us to be able to count on some things, how you handle certain shifts,” Williams said. “So I might have to go say thanks to Coach Miles and his staff.”

With four minutes left, Minnesota led 57-51. Whitish, who scored 12, hit a 3-pointer. Then Kissinger tied the game with another 3. The crowd cheered like it hasn’t all season. Whalen called timeout.

Things didn’t get any better for the Gophers. NU took the lead on two Whitish free throws, then freshman guard Sam Haiby, who led all Huskers with 16, effectively iced the game on a driving layup with 19.5 seconds left.

The rush of offense — NU scored 25 of its 63 points in the fourth — papered over Minnesota’s 43-24 rebounding advantage. The Gophers had 19 offensive rebounds and generally beat Nebraska to the punch for most loose balls — until the fourth quarter.

The Huskers also missed all of their 3-pointers — until the fourth quarter.

“They’re bound to go in some time,” Whitish said.

Williams said she was pleased to see NU players keep plugging away. Nebraska has won two in a row, and its next two games — home vs. Northwestern and at Wisconsin — are winnable, too.

Still, Williams wants more from a young team that routinely plays nine players.

“We’re getting closer,” Williams said. “We’re starting to figure out it takes everybody contributing. You can’t have or take any plays off.”

Minnesota (13-5, 2-5)…………11 16 19 11—57

At Nebraska (9-9, 4-3)………..14 12 12 25—63

UM: Bello 3-10 1-2 7, Lamke 3-7 4-4 10, Bell 4-15 8-11 16, Brunson 2-8 1-2 5, Pitts 4-6 1-2 10, Garrido Perez 2-5 0-0 5, Kaposi 2-3 0-2 4, Staples 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 15-23 57.

NU: Mershon 1-2 0-0 2, Cain 2-5 0-0 4, Eliely 1-5 0-0 2, Kissinger 3-6 1-1 9, Whitish 3-8 4-4 12, Brown 4-8 1-1 9, Simon 0-2 3-4 3, Veerbeek 2-4 2-2 6, Haiby 6-10 4-6 16, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 15-18 63.

3-point goals: UM 2-9 (Garrido Perez 1-2, Pitts 1-3, Kaposi 0-1, Brunson 0-3), NU 4-16 (Kissinger 2-4, Whitish 2-6, Mershon 0-1, Eliely 0-1, Simon 0-1, Haiby 0-1, Brown 0-2). Rebounds: UM 43 (Bello 13), NU 24 (Eliely 6). Assists: UM 9 (Bell 5), NU 12 (Eliely 4). Total fouls: UM 16, NU 17. Fouled out: Pitts. Technical fouls: none. A: 4,072.

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