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Huskers Surge Past No. 23 Minnesota, 63-57

Huskers Surge Past No. 23 Minnesota, 63-57
Nicea Eliely recorded five of her career-high six steals in the fourth quarter to help Nebraska shut down No. 23 Minnesota. Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Lincoln – Hannah Whitish and Taylor Kissinger combined for 19 points in the fourth quarter, while Nicea Eliely sparked the Huskers with five steals in the final period, as Nebraska stormed back from a nine-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play for a 63-57 women’s basketball win over No. 23 Minnesota at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday evening.

Freshman Sam Haiby, a 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minn., capped Nebraska’s 25-11 fourth-quarter outburst with the game’s final four points in the last 20 seconds to seal the win over the Golden Gophers. Haiby matched Minnesota’s first-team All-Big Ten senior point guard Kenisha Bell for game-high scoring honors with 16.

Nebraska improved to 4-3 in the Big Ten and 9-9 overall with its first win over a top-25 opponent this season, while Minnesota slipped to 2-5 in the conference and 13-5 overall.

Nebraska, which trailed 46-38 at the end of three quarters, got its first three-pointer of the game from Kissinger to open the fourth quarter. The Huskers, who averaged 7.5 threes per game coming into the contest, were 0-for-7 from long range against the Gophers in the first 30 minutes.

However, Minnesota answered with baskets from Jasmine Brunson and Kenisha Bell to take its biggest lead at 50-41 with 7:47 to play. Haiby finished a layup to cut the margin before Whitish trimmed the lead to 50-45 with 6:24 left and force a timeout by Minnesota.

The Gophers then got their second three-pointer of the game, a right wing triple from Destiny Pitts to regain a 53-45 margin with six minutes left. That was the last field goal of the game for Minnesota, as Nebraska’s 1-3-1 defense shut down the Gophers from the field the rest of the way and shut out Minnesota entirely for the last four minutes.

In fact, in the final six minutes Minnesota only got a missed three-pointer from Brunson with 3:52 left to the rim, as the Huskers forced five Minnesota turnovers and blocked two shots down the stretch. Eliely got four of her career-high six steals during the final six minutes, while Kissinger and Ashtyn Veerbeek both recorded big blocked shots for the Big Red.

Meanwhile, the Huskers answered with a three-point play from Kissinger with 5:48 left, followed by two three-pointers from Whitish and another three-pointer from Kissinger to tie the game at 57 and force another timeout by Minnesota with 3:03 left.

In the final three minutes, Minnesota got no shots to the rim while Whitish and Haiby combined to go 4-for-4 at the line and Haiby all but clinched the Husker victory with a strong drive and finish with 19.5 seconds left. Nebraska outscored the Gophers 18-4 in the final six minutes and 25-11 in the fourth quarter, while closing the game on a 12-0 run.

It was Nebraska’s second fourth-quarter comeback to victory in Big Ten play, joining a 30-13 fourth-quarter outburst after trailing Michigan in the conference opener.

“Our team keeps fighting and they have shown their commitment to stick with it even when things might not be going that well,” Nebraska Coach Amy Williams. “We know we can play a lot better basketball than we played today, but it was exciting in the fourth quarter when we hit some shots and the crowd got going. It was like a wave of excitement that everybody got caught up in.”

While Haiby finished with 16 points to lead the Huskers, Whitish scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth period and Kissinger got all nine of her points in the game in the final period. Nebraska’s leading scorer coming into the game, freshman Leigha Brown, also produced nine points in the first three quarters to keep the Huskers within striking distance. Veerbeek pitched in six points, five rebounds and a career-high-matching three blocks.

Nebraska held Minnesota to just 37 percent (20-54) shooting, including just 2-for-9 (.222) from three-point range. The Gophers also hit just 65.2 percent (15-23) of their free throws while committing 17 turnovers in the game.

The Huskers finished at 44 percent (22-54), including 8-for-13 (.615) in the fourth quarter. The Huskers went just 4-for-16 (.250) from beyond the arc, but 4-for-9 in the final period, and knocked down 83.3 percent (15-18) of their free throws. Nebraska committed 13 turnovers in the game, but just two in the decisive fourth quarter.

Nebraska’s fourth-quarter eruption allowed the Huskers to overcome a season-worst 43-24 (-19) rebound margin. It was NU’s first negative double-digit rebound margin of the season.

After a tight game throughout the first half, Minnesota took a 27-26 lead to the locker room at the half thanks to a last-second three-pointer from Irene Garrido-Perez. It was the first three of the game by either team.

The first half featured six ties and 15 lead changes with Nebraska building a pair of five-point leads, while Minnesota never led by more than a single point.

The Huskers, who led 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, trailed by just one at the half despite being out-rebounded 24-15 in the half and going without a first-half three.

Haiby and Veerbeek led the Huskers with six points apiece in the half, while Brown pitched in four points. Whitish, Kate Cain, Eliely and Maddie Simon each scored two points for the Big Red in the low-scoring half.

As a team, Nebraska hit just 36 percent (9-25) of its shots but did convert 8-of-9 free throws.

The Golden Gophers were led by 10 points from Bell on 3-of-10 shooting and 4-of-6 free throws. Pitts, who finished with 10 points, added five first-half points, while Annalese Lamke, who also finished with 10 points, pitched in four in the opening 20 minutes.

Minnesota hit 33.3 percent (10-30) of its first-half shots, including 1-of-5 threes, while converting 6-of-10 free throws. Minnesota committed eight turnovers, while forcing seven by the Huskers.

Nebraska returns to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday, as the Huskers play host to Northwestern. Tip-off between Nebraska and the Wildcats is set for 7 p.m., with tickets available now on Huskers.com.

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