Lincoln – Sam Haiby’s buzzer-beating put-back of her own miss as time expired lifted Nebraska to a 65-63 win over No. 15 Northwestern on New Year’s Eve at Pinnacle Bank Arena. For the Huskers, it marked their first win over a top-15 team since December of 2014, and they handed the defending Big Ten Conference co-champion Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Nebraska improved to 4-3 with the victory and 2-2 in the Big Ten, while Northwestern slipped to 4-1 and 2-1 in the league.
Haiby’s game-winner put the finishing touches on a tremendous all-around performance that included a team-high 19 points to go along with eight rebounds and a team-high five assists. Haiby matched first-team All-Big Ten guard Lindsey Pulliam for the Wildcats blow for blow, as Pulliam also finished with 19 points, while managing four assists and three rebounds.
Haiby’s outstanding effort did not come without individual adversity. The 5-9 junior from Moorhead, Minn., had to exit the game with 7:45 left after experiencing a severe leg cramp in her right calf while being fouled on a strong drive to the basket. She left with the Huskers in front 52-45, and that lead grew to Nebraska’s largest at 54-45 when Ashley Scoggin made a pair of free throws in Haiby’s place. Scoggin finished with 11 points, including a pair of three-pointers.
Without Haiby on the floor, Northwestern closed the gap to 56-52 with five minutes left, before freshman Annika Stewart buried a big three-pointer out of the timeout to put the Big Red back up seven and buy Haiby a few more minutes of hydration and muscle massage behind the Husker bench. However, the Wildcats clawed their way back within a bucket just 40 seconds later after a Pulliam basket with four minutes left made it 59-56 Nebraska.
Bella Cravens bought Haiby a few more seconds with her score to push NU’s lead back to 61-56 with 3:17 left. Cravens finished with six points, eight rebounds and three big assists. But Northwestern answered with five straight points to tie the game at 61 with 1:41 left.
Haiby, who returned to action with 2:33 left after recovering for more than five minutes of game time, got to the rim and finished and was fouled with 1:33 left to put the Huskers back on top 63-61. She missed the free throw, and Northwestern’s Jordan Hamilton answered with a layup with 52 seconds left to tie the game at 63. Hamilton, who scored five of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, was one of four Wildcats to finish in double figures.
Haiby missed a jumper with 33 seconds left to give the Cats a chance to win, but Pulliam took a quick jumper inside the key that was off the mark with 23 seconds left. Haiby cleared the defensive rebound then put the game into her own hands. She attacked down the middle and took a contested shot with two seconds left. However, the ball found its way right back to her and she immediately put the ball back up off balance with her back to the basket. Her second shot, which left her hand with 0.6 on the clock banked high off the window and went in with no time remaining to give the Huskers their second Big Ten win of the season and snap a three-game losing skid.
Haiby’s game-winning put-back capped a big day on the glass for the Big Red, as the Huskers outscored the Wildcats, 18-12 in second-chance points. Overall, Nebraska won the battle of the boards, 47-35, including a season-high 15 offensive rebounds. Isabelle Bourne helped power Nebraska’s work on the glass with a career-high 10 rebounds on her way to her first career double-double to go along with 11 points. Senior center Kate Cain actually led Nebraska with a game-high 11 rebounds while adding four blocked shots to become just the sixth player in Big Ten history to record 300 career blocks.
The Huskers also thrived from long range against the Wildcats, knocking down a season-high nine three-pointers on 45 percent (9-20) shooting from beyond the arc. Perhaps most importantly, several of those three-pointers came from young Huskers off the bench, including back-to-back second-quarter threes from freshman guard Whitney Brown. The Grand Island native celebrated her birthday by draining a pair of threes in a 32-second span to erase a 34-28 Northwestern lead and tie the game at 34 with 4:04 left in the first half. The six-point lead was Northwestern’s largest and came after Nebraska starters Cravens and Scoggin had gone to the bench with two first-half fouls.
Nebraska also got a three-pointer off the bench from freshman Ruby Porter on her first shot attempt after missing nearly three full games with an ankle injury. Her triple put Nebraska up 15-11 midway through the first quarter.
In addition to the big fourth-quarter three from Stewart, the Huskers got a pair of buckets inside from the 6-3 forward late in the third quarter to cap a 6-0 run and push Nebraska’s lead to 49-42 with 1:08 left in the period. Stewart helped Nebraska head to the fourth quarter with a 49-45 lead after trailing 38-36 at the half. Overall, Nebraska’s bench, which included just those three freshmen available in the game, outscored Northwestern’s bench 16-0.
The Husker defense was outstanding throughout against the Wildcats, and at its best in the third quarter when the Wildcats didn’t hit a field goal until the closing seconds from Veronica Burton. The All-Big Ten point guard finished with 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting. As a team, Nebraska held Northwestern to just 1-for-12 shooting from the field in the third period, including 0-for-2 from long range. The Cats also went just 5-for-12 at the free throw line in the period despite holding an 8-3 edge in fouls during the period.
For the game, Nebraska finished at 44.4 percent (24-54) from the floor, including 9-of-20 (.450) from three-point range, and 8-of-13 at the free throw line. The Huskers held the Wildcats to just 35.3 percent (24-68) including 31.3 percent (5-16) from three-point range. The Cats were also a dismal 10-of-22 at the free throw line. Northwestern, which entered the game with a plus-14.3 average turnover margin, forced 24 turnovers by Nebraska, including six steals from Burton. The Wildcats committed just seven turnovers of their own and outscored the Huskers 23-10 in points off turnovers.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten home action to start the New Year on Sunday, Jan. 3, when the Huskers play host to Rutgers at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Scarlet Knights is set for 2 p.m.