Huskers End Tourney in Setback to Michigan

Big Games by Brown, Bourne Not Enough

Indianapolis – Big Ten Sixth Player-of-the-Year Leigha Brown produced game highs with 22 points and six assists, but it was not enough to prevent No. 7 Michigan from rallying in the second half for an 81-75 women’s basketball win over No. 10 seed Nebraska in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Freshman forward Isabelle Bourne added career highs with 16 points and five blocked shots to go along with a team-high six rebounds off the bench for Nebraska, as the Huskers closed the regular season with a 17-13 overall record that included a 7-11 Big Ten mark.

Michigan, which improved to 20-10 overall after going 10-8 in the league, advances to play Big Ten regular-season co-champion Northwestern on Friday. Sophomore point guard Amy Dilk led Michigan with game highs of 22 points and six assists of her own, while first-team All-Big Ten forward Naz Hillmon added 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Nebraska, which built a 42-34 halftime lead, saw Michigan open the third quarter on a 13-2 surge in the first five minutes to take a 47-44 lead. The Huskers were never able to recover, as the Wolverines built a 58-52 edge heading to the fourth quarter by outscoring NU 24-10 in the third period.

The Huskers found more offense in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to get stops in the first five minutes, as Michigan extended its lead to 71-61 in the first five minutes of the final period. The Wolverines took their biggest lead of the night at 74-62 with three minutes left, but Nebraska refused to surrender. Brown scored five points in a 7-1 surge for the Big Red that cut the margin to 75-69 with 1:09 left. After a free throw by Dilk with 1:02 left, Nebraska got a Nicea Eliely layup with 43 seconds left to trim it to 76-71. Dilk hit 1-of-2 free throws with 38.2 second left to push the edge to six, with Nebraska coming down with a chance to make it a one-possession game. However, a Husker turnover gave the ball back to the Wolverines and ended the Husker hopes of a Big Ten Tournament run.

Nebraska fell despite hitting 50.9 percent (28-55) of its shots from the field and 75 percent (12-16) of its free throws on the night. The Huskers were also 7-of-19 from three-point range (.368), but got out-rebounded 35-27 and lost the turnover battle 16-13. It was just the second time this season that Nebraska hit better than 50 percent of its shots from the field.

Michigan answered by hitting 46.2 percent (30-65) of its shots, including just 3-of-10 threes. The Wolverines also struggled at times from the line, hitting 18-of-28 free throws (.643). But 19 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points doomed the Huskers, as Hillmon pulled down six boards on the offensive end.

In a first half that started with foul trouble for Nebraska center Kate Cain and Hillmon, the Huskers played outstanding offense and forced 10 first-half turnovers by the Wolverines.

Cain, a Big Ten All-Defensive selection and honorable-mention all-conference pick, was called for two fouls just seconds apart against Hillmon in the first 1:07 of the game and went to the bench with Michigan leading 4-0. Just 2:53 later, Hillmon was whistled for her second foul with Michigan leading 8-5.

With Cain and Hillmon both off the floor for the final six minutes of the first quarter, Nebraska closed the quarter on a 15-5 surge thanks in large part to seven huge points from Bourne and a three-pointer by forward Kayla Mershon in place of Cain – all in place of Cain.

Nebraska took a 20-13 lead to the second quarter, before Brown’s second three-pointer and a bucket by Bourne pushed the Husker lead to 25-14 just 46 seconds into the period and force a Michigan timeout. Another Husker stop was followed by a three-pointer from Sam Haiby, who finished with 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals, to give Nebraska its biggest lead of the game at 28-14 with 8:28 left in the half.

The Huskers maintained a 31-18 lead with 6:05 left before Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico rolled the dice and inserted Hillmon with two fouls. Hillmon scored seven points in the final 5:27 of the half to help stabilize the Wolverines and cut the margin to eight heading to the second half.

Cain, battled more foul trouble throughout the second half, but managed to go 6-for-6 from the field and finish with 12 points and three blocked shots. Her three rejections pushed her season total to 101, breaking her own Nebraska single-season record. As a team, Nebraska matched its season high and school conference tournament record with 12 blocks as a team.

Nebraska will await word on a 2020 Postseason WNIT bid, which will be announced late in the evening on Monday, March 16. If the Huskers are invited to the tournament, they could open tournament play as early as Wednesday, March 18 and could be set to host in the first round of the 64-team field at Pinnacle Bank Arena.