HUSKER WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Nebraska Falls Short of Upset Bid Against No. 15 Michigan

Ann Arbor, Mich. -(NU Athletics Jan. 7)– Sam Haiby led Nebraska with 27 points and nine rebounds, but a furious fourth-quarter rally fell short in a 64-62 women’s basketball loss at unbeaten and No. 15 Michigan at the Crisler Center on Thursday night.

Trailing 60-49 midway through the fourth quarter, the Huskers got a three-pointer from Isabelle Bourne to spark a 9-0 run. Bourne, who finished with nine points, added another basket before Haiby got a steal and layup to pull the Big Red within 60-56. The Huskers got another stop before Bella Cravens knocked down an elbow jumper to bring Nebraska within 60-58.

The Huskers, who slipped to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, then watched Naz Hillmon score her final two points in a career-high 35-point night to extend the margin to four. Haiby answered with a bucket of her own to get Nebraska back within two. With time winding down, NU was forced to commit five fouls in order to send Michigan to the line.

Akienrah Johnson, who finished with nine points, calmly sank two free throws with nine seconds left to put the Wolverines up 64-60. Nebraska took a timeout to advance the ball and got a lob over the top to Kate Cain, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, to narrow the gap to 64-62 with 2.7 seconds left. Michigan took timeout to advance the ball. The Wolverines needed to get the ball in clean, but Husker freshman Whitney Brown got a deflection and Cravens scooped up the loose ball. Cravens took two dribbles before heaving the potential game-winning shot from the Michigan logo at half court. The shot would have counted had it gone, but it did not draw iron. Cravens finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

Not only did Nebraska take Michigan, which improved to 8-0 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, down to the wire on the road, the Huskers were still in position to win despite 35 points and a career-high 22 rebounds from Hillmon. The two-time first-team All-Big Ten forward became just the third Husker opponent in history to finish with 30 points and 20 rebounds, and her 22 rebounds marked the third-highest total ever by an opponent. Michigan’s 30 offensive rebounds matched the highest team total by an opponent in Husker history. The Wolverines turned their offensive rebounds into 24 second-chance points.

The Huskers were nearly able to overcome the remarkable individual performance by Hillmon, who went 15-for-23 from the floor, by holding the Wolverines to a season-low 32.4 percent (27-74) from the field, including just 3-for-20 from three-point range. Michigan also hit just 13-of-24 free throws. Entering the game, Michigan led the nation with their 53.9 percent field goal percentage, including 43 percent success from three-point range and a 76 percent free throw percentage.

Prior to the game, Michigan’s lowest output of the season came with 76 points against Notre Dame and the Wolverines entered the contest averaging 88 points per night. It marked the third straight game that Nebraska held an opponent averaging better than 80 points per game to fewer than 65 points. The only Wolverine to join Hillmon in double figures was All-Big Ten guard Amy Dilk, who managed 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Hailey Brown added eight points, including a pair of first-quarter three-pointers, on 3-of-13 shooting.

In a close game throughout, Michigan led 22-19 at the end of the first quarter thanks to 16 first-quarter points from Hillmon. But Nebraska answered to take a 35-34 halftime lead thanks to 10 second-quarter points from Haiby and the last four points of the half from Cravens. Haiby finished the first half with 19 points for the Huskers, while Hillmon had 18 for the Wolverines.

Nebraska pushed the lead to 37-34 after a Bourne bucket out of the half, and the game was tied at 41 before the Huskers faced foul trouble and Michigan free throws in the third quarter. Eight of Michigan’s 18 points in the third quarter came off 13 free throw attempts, while Nebraska did not attempt a free throw in the period. Trailing 45-41 with the fouls 7-1 in favor of Michigan, the Nebraska bench was assessed a technical foul. During the 9-0 Michigan run that gave the Wolverines a 50-41 lead, Michigan hit 5-of-9 free throws.

Michigan played without its second-leading scorer, Leigha Brown, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, because of COVID-19 protocols. Brown, who averaged 14.4 points and was the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year for Nebraska last season, had started the previous seven games for the Wolverines.

The Huskers will remain in Michigan for the rest of the week to prepare for another top-25 battle on Sunday, when they take on No. 23 Michigan State. The Spartans suffered their first loss of the season on Thursday with a setback to No. 12 Maryland. Tip-off between Nebraska and Michigan State is set for 2 p.m. (CT) with a live video stream provided to subscribers of Big Ten Network plus.