Austin, Texas – No. 10 seed Nebraska matched No. 7 seed Arizona State blow for blow for 36 minutes but a 14-0 Sun Devil run over a four-minute span late in the third quarter was the difference, as the Huskers fell 73-62 in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Erwin Center on Saturday afternoon.
With the loss, Nebraska finished a remarkable turnaround season with a 21-11 overall record that included an 11-5 Big Ten record to tie for third in the conference standings. The Huskers also advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals while earning their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2015.
Arizona State improved to 22-12 overall and advanced to the second round to face the No. 2 seed hosts from Texas on Monday night in Austin.
Fifth-year senior Janay Morton led the Huskers with season highs of 16 points and four rebounds off the bench to cap her Nebraska career. Taylor Kissinger, a 6-1 freshman guard from Minden, Neb., added 15 points off the bench, while sophomore starter Hannah Whitish contributed 12 points to put three Huskers in double figures.
After the two teams went to halftime tied at 27, Whitish hit back-to-back threes early in the third quarter to give the Huskers a 36-33 lead with 6:38 left in the period. Kissinger hit a driving layup a little more than a minute later to keep Nebraska up 39-36 with 5:26 left, but the Sun Devils responded with a 14-0 run over the next four minutes to take control of the game.
Nebraska trailed 51-40 at the end of three quarters, and the Sun Devils grew their lead to 16 points at 56-40 by holding the Huskers without a field goal for more than nine minutes dating back to Kissinger’s third quarter layup.
But as they showed all season, the Big Red refused to surrender cutting the ASU lead to 68-59 on Morton’s third three-pointer of the game with 2:03 left. Nebraska then got a defensive stop, but on the ensuing possession Jasmine Cincore was called for an offensive foul on a drive down the middle of the lane. The Huskers could get no closer the rest of the way.
Cincore, a senior from Arlington, Tenn., who entered the game as the only Husker with any NCAA Tournament playing experience (one minute as a freshman in 2015), contributed eight points, three rebounds, a block and a steal in her final game at Nebraska.
No other Husker managed more than four points against a stingy and disciplined Sun Devil defense.
Nebraska hit just 37.3 percent (19-51) of its shots from the floor, including 32 percent (8-25) from three-point range. The Huskers also hit 66.7 percent (16-24) of their free throws.
The NU defense held ASU to just 38.3 percent (23-60) from the field, including just 21.1 percent (4-19) from long range. The Sun Devils hit 74.2 percent (23-31) of their free throws, and did the most damage to the Husker hopes on the glass. Arizona State outrebounded Nebraska 49-27, including 21 offensive rebounds. ASU outscored Nebraska 16-6 in second-chance points.
Robbi Ryan led four Sun Devils in double figures with 16 points, while Kianna Ibis contributed 14 points and eight rebounds. Jamie Ruden added 11 points off the bench, while Reili Richardson managed 10 points and a game-high four assists.
In a tight first half, the two teams were tied at 13 at the end of the first quarter before heading to halftime tied at 27. Arizona State managed a trio of four-point leads in the second quarter, while the Huskers took their biggest lead at 27-24 on a Morton three with 45 seconds left in the half before ASU answered with a three of its own to send the teams to the locker room all tied up.
Morton, who was playing in her first NCAA Tournament game after transferring from Eastern Michigan, led all scorers with 12 first-half points including eight of Nebraska’s last 10 points of the half against the Sun Devils. The only other Husker to score more than two first-half points against the Sun Devils was another transfer, sophomore guard Bria Stallworth, who scored Nebraska’s first four points of the second quarter.
In the half, Nebraska hit 40 percent (10-25) of its shots including 3-of-10 threes. Morton also knocked down all four of NU’s free throws in the half. The Huskers held ASU to just 35.5 percent (11-31) shooting in the half including just 3-of-13 threes. The Sun Devils went 2-for-4 at the line. ASU dominated the glass, 23-11, outscoring NU 9-2 on second-chance points. But Nebraska answered by winning the first-half turnover battle 7-5, and edging ASU 7-4 in points off those turnovers.
Ibis and Ryan led the Sun Devils in the first half with eight points apiece, while Ruden and Sophia Elenga each added four points off the bench for ASU.