LINCOLN — At one point in Nebraska’s season-opening 83-77 loss to Drake, the Husker women had all four of their freshmen on the floor at once.
They had been spotted a healthy lead and held it through the end of the first quarter.
“It was fun,” said freshman guard Sam Haiby, who led NU with 13 points.
But Drake — the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion that returned all its top players — punched back with a second quarter so good the Huskers never quite recovered. For the Bulldogs, who could surpass their 26 wins from last season, it was a key notch in the NCAA tournament belt they’ll spend five months crafting.
“They had four 1,000-point scorers out there,” coach Amy Williams said.
For 0-1 Nebraska? Welcome to the learning curve. Welcome to the season when the Huskers, coming off a surprising NCAA tourney bid, won’t sneak past a soul.
It was Drake (1-0) doing the sneaking on hard cuts to the hoop that led to easy baskets. And Drake players leaking out in transition for 3-pointers. And Drake’s smaller, savvier post players beating NU’s tall but young team for 19 offensive rebounds.
That all led to a rare home-opening loss for the Huskers, though they’ve rarely played a team of Drake’s seasoning and skill on opening night. NU barely escaped Des Moines last season with an 89-84 double-overtime win, so Williams and returning players knew it would be tight game.
Even after NU started its season on a 14-0 run in the opening minutes.
“I’m sure people thought, ‘Oh, yes, we’re up 14-0,’ but our team knew (Drake) was a team that could come flashing back in a hurry,” Williams said.
That Drake did.
A 29-15 Nebraska lead after one quarter was erased in first 3:49 of the second quarter. By the end of it, the Bulldogs had outscored the Huskers 30-7, hit 7 of 8 3-pointers and repeatedly gummed up the gears of Nebraska’s offense with a zone defense that fronted and frustrated Husker post Kate Cain.
Cain riddled Drake last season with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Wednesday night, she finished with four points and four turnovers in 24 minutes. She often couldn’t reach or handle lob passes.
“We had to do something,” Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk said of defending Cain. “I thought our folks did a good job of being able to move around and play tough defense.”
Nebraska’s defense lagged in the second quarter, guard Hannah Whitish said, because players allowed their poor offense to dictate their execution on defense.
Drake led 45-36 at halftime, extending the lead to 49-36 after guard Sammie Bachrodt — who had 15 points — hit a layup. Nebraska’s reserves — led by Haiby and freshman forward Ashtyn Veerbeek (eight points, seven rebounds) led a comeback, cutting Drake’s lead to 56-55 on a Veerbeek layup. Eventually, two Haiby free throws gave Nebraska a 67-65 lead with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs tied the game on a layup by Monica Burich. One possession later, Nicole Miller hit an open 3-pointer in transition. Drake never relinquished that lead, though NU had three looks at a tying 3-pointer. Whitish missed twice and Nicea Eliely missed once.
Drake had five players score in double figures but was led by Maddy Dean (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Sara Rhine (11 points, 10 rebounds), who repeatedly won battles for loose balls. Whitish said 56 combined 3-point attempts created a unique atmosphere for rebounding.
“Long shots, long rebounds,” Whitish said. “We knew that — we just had to position ourselves better. I don’t think we adjusted well to that.”
Drake won the rebounding battle 44-40. Williams had made rebounding an emphasis in the offseason and had even come up with a motto — “GUTS” — to underline its importance.
“At times I thought we were out-physicaled,” Williams said. “At times I thought we out-physicaled (Drake). It just kind of came and went a little bit.”
Whitish expects that Nebraska will learn a lot from the tape before Sunday’s game against USC Upstate. But that learning experience came at the expense of a loss.
“It hurts, really bad,” Whitish said.
Drake (1-0)…………….15 30 15 23—83
At Nebraska (0-1)………29 7 21 20—77
DU: Jonas 4-9 0-0 8, Bachrodt 5-13 1-3 15, Hittner 6-13 5-5 19, Monahan 0-3 1-2 1, Dean 2-7 7-10 13, Rhine 3-8 5-7 11, Burich 2-3 0-0 4, Miller 4-6 0-0 11, Rose 0-3 1-2 1, Fuller 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 26-65 20-29 83.
NU: Simon 2-6 0-0 4, Cain 2-6 0-0 4, Eliely 2-4 4-4 10, Kissinger 2-8 2-2 8, Whitish 4-10 0-0 10, Mershon 2-4 1-2 6, Veerkbeek 4-8 0-0 8, Brown 2-5 0-0 6, Haiby 4-7 4-4 13, Mitchell 0-0 1-2 1, Hudson 3-8 1-3 7. Totals: 27-66 13-17 77.
3-pointers: DU 11-28 (Jonas 0-2, Bachrodt 4-9, Hittner 2-5, Dean 2-5, Rhine 0-1, Miller 3-3, Rose 0-3) NU 10-28 (Simon 0-1, Eliely 2-3, Kissinger 2-5, Whitish 2-8, Mershon 1-2, Veerbeek 0-1, Brown 2-5, Haiby 1-2, Hudson 0-1). Rebounds: DU 44 (Dean, Rhine 10), NU 40 (Cain, Veerbeek 7). Assists: DU 18 (Dean, Miller 4), NU 16 (Whitish 4).