LINCOLN — They heard the boos at the whistle that helped deny the Nebraska women an upset.
But Husker guards Hannah Whitish and Jasmine Cincore didn’t look up at the Pinnacle Bank Arena video screens to see if the foul called on Nicea Eliely at the end of regulation was legitimate. The fans saw it. The media saw it. A BTN replay bouncing across Twitter made sure anyone who cared to see it saw it. Not Whitish or Cincore or their coach Amy Williams. Not even directly after the game.
“I’m going to trust the ref made the right call,” Whitish said.
Whitish may not want to look then. NU lost 69-64 in overtime to No. 23 Michigan. Turnovers and missed shots sealed the Huskers’ fate in the extra period, but the game turned on Eliely’s foul with 0.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Nebraska led 62-59 when Eliely came out to contest freshman guard Deja Church’s corner 3-pointer. Eliely probably wasn’t supposed to — Williams told players in a timeout just seconds before not to foul, or even try to, once a Michigan player was in shooting position around the 3-point line because it was “too risky.”
“We didn’t want to foul the 3-point shooter,” Williams said.
But Williams said Eliely “played to win” when she leapt at Church.
“I’m proud of the way our team defended,” Williams said.
Replays showed Eliely blocked the shot cleanly. She was whistled for the foul anyway.
Church made all three free throws. Overtime. Ol’ momentum put on a Michigan jersey.
“I know they may not be happy with the call, but there’s a lot of calls I haven’t been happy with throughout the game and throughout the season,” UM coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “But the fact that my kid still had to go to the free-throw line and make three free throws just says a lot about our team.”
Did she think Michigan earned the foul?
“I let the referees ref the game and I coach the game,” Barnes Arico said. “They made the call and we shot the free throws.”
It was the flashpoint moment of a long, strange game. The teams combined for 92 points in a free-flowing, fast-paced first half, full of 3-pointers and trap defenses and well-executed halfcourt offense. Michigan led 48-44 at the break.
In the third quarter, though, time warped to the peach basket era. Over 10 minutes, Michigan scored five points. Nebraska scored four. The teams committed 17 turnovers.
“Pretty crazy,” Williams said. “High-powered, potent offense in the first half and then the defenses slugged it out and battled in the second half.”
“The pace just slowed down so much,” Barnes Arico said.
When UM All-Big Ten guard Katelynn Flaherty — who led all scorers with 26 points — hit a 3-pointer with 8:33 left in the game to give Michigan a 56-48 lead, Nebraska (12-6, 3-2 Big Ten) could have wilted away.
Instead Williams inserted talented freshman Taylor Kissinger, who spent most of the game on the bench because of an illness. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run. The 4,279 at PBA lit up.
Michigan’s Hailey Brown tied the game 59-59 with her 3-pointer at the 1:27 mark. Then Whitish — who led NU with 16 points — hit three free throws over two possessions to give NU a 62-59 lead. Michigan called timeout at 21 seconds and again at 7.7 seconds to set up a play. Flaherty, UM’s best player by some margin, did not take the final 3-pointer.
Church, right next to her own bench, did. She’d attempted 24 3-pointers this season and hit eight heading into the game. As the foul was called, one Michigan assistant jumped off the bench with both hands in the air, as if he’d scored a touchdown. Williams just spun away from the action and walked back toward her bench, clapping hard at her players.
“I know right there we just need to move on to the next play,” Williams said.
Williams recalled a double-overtime game at Drake this season that featured similar gut punches but resulted in a win.
Michigan (15-4, 4-2) is better than Drake. Nebraska’s best chance to win the game in overtime ended when another Kissinger 3-point rainbow rimmed in and out with 16 seconds left.
The Huskers haven’t lost a true road game this season. But the next step is beating a good team at home. Didn’t happen against Creighton, Washington State, Ohio State or Michigan. Perhaps No. 18 Iowa on Tuesday night.
For a Husker team that just tried to keep its head above water last season- and usually drowned anyway – it’s a welcome change, trading blows with NCAA tournament squads.
But you know how success works. A little more is never enough.
“It was a very disappointed locker room,” Williams said.