LINCOLN — The February drought is over for the Nebraska women’s basketball team, and it came with a little irony.
The Huskers’ 75-58 win over Penn State broke a four-game losing streak and gave Nebraska its first win of the month. The difference?
A dream performance where there have been so many nightmares this season.
The third quarter.
An 8-0 run to end the first half spilled over into the second half, where NU often has gone cold.
Not Thursday night. Against the Big Ten’s worst team, the Huskers hit 11 of 14 shots in the third quarter and scored 26 points, a season high for the third.
By the end of it, a one-point halftime lead had turned into a 15-point pad headed into the fourth quarter. For once, Nebraska (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten) didn’t have to sweat the final possessions of a game.
“It’s kind of known we struggle in the third quarter,” said guard Leigha Brown, who led all scorers with 20 points. “But I think, the last two quarters of the game, we carried the momentum from the end of the second quarter.”
Added guard Sam Haiby: “We flying around and sharing the ball. We played really good team basketball today, so that led to a lot of easy buckets in transition.”
The Huskers’ defense, meanwhile, smothered Penn State’s offense after a sluggish first quarter. NU finished the game with a season-high 12 blocks — center Kate Cain had six — and forced PSU (7-18, 1-13) to miss 12 layups and shoot just 31.9% for the game.
Penn State star guard Kamaria McDaniel — one of the Big Ten’s leading scorers — hit just 3 of 15 shots and had four turnovers.
“Shot quality,” Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger said after the game, her voice nearly gone from yelling for two hours. “(McDaniel) took contested shots, probably got blocked five or six times and didn’t look to pass out to her teammates.”
But the Big Ten’s basement team outplayed the Huskers in the opening quarter, even prompting a timeout from coach Amy Williams after a 7-0 PSU run.
The Nittany Lions hit four 3-pointers — all wide-open, uncontested looks — and routinely gummed up Nebraska’s half-court offense, forcing bad shots late in the shot clock. Penn State led 20-16 after 10 minutes and had a 31-24 advantage with 2:49 left in the first half.
That’s when, in front of 3,109 fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena, NU awoke from its slumber to close the half on an 8-0 run, with six of the points coming from the foul line. Nebraska forced six straight empty possessions to end the half.
The Huskers wrested control in the second half, with Cain scoring the first two baskets of the quarter. After Penn State’s Makenna Marisa hit a 3-pointer to cut NU’s lead to 38-36 with 7:25 left, Nebraska went on a 16-5 run over the next four minutes. Six Huskers — including true freshman Makenzie Helms — scored during the stretch to give NU a 54-41 lead. PSU never got within 12 points after that.
Nebraska got balanced scoring from sophomores Brown and Ashtyn Veerbeek (12) and freshman Isabelle Bourne, who scored nine of her 11 points in the second half. Williams praised the continued progress of Bourne, the tenacity of NU’s transition defense and the relative consistency put forth by the Huskers Thursday night.
“I wouldn’t give us 40 (minutes) yet, but it was closer,” Williams said. “We didn’t have any of those quarters that kind of stick out like a sore thumb for you. We feel like our team is really capable of breaking through right here.”
Next up: No. 19 Northwestern, which has won nine of its past 10 and is a half-game out of first place in the league. Nebraska, meanwhile, is in sole possession of ninth place.