LINCOLN — Amy Williams wanted a timeout. Her players didn’t look at her and the officials didn’t, either, until it was too late. And the shot that would determine Nebraska’s fate for the night was already in the air, on its way to falling short.
It’s been a frustrating season for the Husker women, and their 58-54 loss to Northwestern was two months of irritation in a nutshell. Nebraska missed 46 shots and almost half of its free throws. Then in crunch time, Nebraska made the kind of mistakes that underline mediocrity.
Six of the Huskers’ 10 losses have been by six or fewer points. Just a handful of possessions, but those possessions leave NU a long shot for postseason play.
On Thursday night, it was freshman guard Sam Haiby driving hard into the lane with roughly 15 seconds left in the game. The Huskers trailed 55-54 and Haiby, 19 games into her career, has the “green light,” Williams said, to see if she can “slither to the basket.”
Haiby stopped slithering about 12 feet from the hoop. She ate her dribble amid Northwestern giants. Not good. This is when Williams wanted the timeout.
She called for it, she said, and officials didn’t see her. Haiby didn’t think to call it herself, so she gave the ball up to another freshman Leigha Brown, who went up immediately with a jumper.
“By the time we called for that timeout a second time, the official said (Brown) was already in her shooting motion,” Williams said.
Northwestern (12-7, 5-3 Big Ten) rebounded Brown’s miss and, after several Husker fouls, hit two free throws. Seven seconds remained and Nebraska (9-10, 4-4) had a frontcourt inbounds play drawn up for Taylor Kissinger — the Big Ten’s best 3-pointer shooter — to send the game into overtime.
But the screen Williams drew up wasn’t set, and guard Hannah Whitish’s inbounds was “soft” and “nonchalant,” Williams said. It was stolen by Northwestern’s Jordan Hamilton.
Again, Williams wanted a timeout instead of a bad pass. No one called one.
And so Nebraska lost a chance at its third straight league win and momentum for the approaching back half of the Big Ten slate.
Aside from the flubbed final seconds, the culprits Thursday were bad shooting — “all week there’s been a lot of talk about how great of shooters we have, and then our starting wings go 1 for 11 from the 3-point line,” Williams quipped — and another double-digit rebounding deficit.
With post players at 6-foot-5, 6-3 and 6-2, Nebraska is not a small team, but it routinely allows offensive rebounds. Northwestern had 17. Senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had 10 by herself.
Williams explained rebounding woes as a series of dominoes.
Guards don’t stay in front of their defensive assignments. Posts thus have to help on defense, drawing them away from the hoop. When a shot is missed, opponents are then in better positions for boards. What Williams didn’t say — but what can be seen possession to possession — is NU players getting outfought for rebounds, or getting the ball punched out of their hands.
Williams called on the last player from her bench, Grace Mitchell, to grab a few boards, and praised only Mitchell’s rebounding effort in the postgame press conference.
“When you give up 10 offensive rebounds to one player, I don’t really care how special she is — I mean, she’s a very special rebounder — you’re probably not taking care of business,” Williams said.
And perhaps the Big Ten isn’t as forgiving as years past. Coaches always have a habit of saying their league has never been deeper, but Whitish — who led Nebraska scorers with 12 points — suggested there is greater parity.
“This year, you see upsets everywhere,” Whitish said. “Every team in the Big Ten has picked up their game to the next level.”
Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said every Big Ten team is a “bucket away from being undefeated and a bucket away from being under .500 in the league.”
Williams agreed with that. It isn’t much consolation, though.
Nebraska’s running out of dice rolls and table chips. Four of the next six games are on the road. Thursday was one loss that felt like more.
“Tough, disappointing loss,” Williams said.
Northwestern (12-7, 5-3)……..9 16 12 21—58
At Nebraska (9-10, 4-4)……..11 10 13 20—54
NW: Hopkins 2-9 0-0 4, Kunaiyi-Akpanah 4-12 2-5 10, Pulliam 9-17 2-3 21, Burton 0-7 2-2 2, Hamilton 4-8 1-2 12, Wood 3-5 0-0 7, Wolf 1-5 0-0 2, Jamison 0-1 0-0 0, Galemik 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-64 7-12 58.
NU: Mershon 2-4 0-0 5, Cain 1-4 1-2 3, Whitish 4-11 0-0 12, Eliely 3-9 1-2 7, Kissinger 2-8 1-1 6, Haiby 1-7 2-3 4, Veerbeek 4-9 0-0 9, Simon 0-2 1-2 1, Brown 2-11 1-2 6, Mitchell 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 19-65 8-14 54.
3-point field goals: NW 5-16 (Hamilton 3-5, Wood 1-1, Pulliam 1-3, Burton 0-3, Hopkins 0-3, Jamison 0-1), NU 8-28 (Whitish 4-10, Mershon 1-1, Veerbeek 1-2, Brown 1-4, Kissinger 1-6, Eliely 0-5). Rebounds: NW 51 (Kunaiyi-Akpanah 19), NU 41 (Mershon 7). Assists: NW 12 (Burton 4), NU 13 (Whitish 4). Att: 3,660.