INDIANAPOLIS — In its 30th and final game of the season, the Nebraska women’s basketball team was frustratingly on brand.
The 75-71 Big Ten tournament loss to Purdue featured many staples of the Huskers’ inconsistent season. A stretch of play so poor on both ends that the Boilermakers went on a 15-0 run and forced coach Amy Williams to call a timeout. A major deficit in rebounding. A furious fourth-quarter run that came up just short and a little late.
Nebraska, 14-16 overall, lost its ninth game this season by six points or fewer. Because the WNIT requires at least a .500 record, NU can’t qualify for it despite tying for sixth in the Big Ten. The league’s automatic WNIT bid will almost certainly default to Ohio State, which, along with the rest of the higher seeds in Thursday’s games, lost to a lower seed.
The Huskers’ game was the most competitive of the bunch even if, for most of the game, Purdue (19-14) had complete control, taking a 60-47 lead into the fourth quarter.
“You can’t dig those kind of holes and expect that you’re going to come out on top,” Williams said.
NU made a late surge — as it has often this season thanks to superior depth — hitting five 3-pointers over a five-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. Sophomore forward Taylor Kissinger, whose 15 points led four Huskers in double figures, rattled home two of them. The last of the quintet, from junior guard Hannah Whitish, cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 69-68 at the two-minute mark.
The next 90 seconds were a microcosm of Nebraska’s season.
Purdue guard Karissa McLaughlin missed a 3-pointer short, and Nebraska failed to secure the rebound as Purdue guard Dominique Oden, who led all scorers with 20 points, picked up the ball and hit a layup.
“We get to a one-point game right there, we give up an offensive rebound, and you just have to have that board,” Williams said.
Nebraska’s ensuing possession ended in freshman forward Kayla Mershon, who averages 3.2 points per game, trying a dipping layup against the two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, Ae’Rianna Harris. The shot wasn’t close. Harris then hit a short jumper in the lane to push Purdue’s lead to 73-68 and put the game out of reach.
An NU preseason mantra focused on rebounding fell flat again as Nebraska got outrebounded 44-36 and gave up 19 offensive rebounds. Harris had 14 by herself. Tamara Farquhar had 15. The Huskers’ top rebounder was Kate Cain, who finished with seven boards and 10 points.
Nebraska had swept the Boilermakers during the regular season with relative ease but squandered an early 13-9 lead as Purdue went on a 15-0 run than spanned the first and second quarters. The Boilermakers hit four 3-pointers over the stretch — the last of them prompted a frustrated Williams to call timeout — while Nebraska missed 7 of 8 shots. Several misses were wild, flailing attempts; one, a 3-pointer by Kissinger at the first-quarter horn, remained lodged between the basket and the backboard.
“You feel like and you know coming into tournament games that there are going to be runs, but you can’t give up runs where you’re giving wide-open 3-point looks to their 3-point shooters,” Williams said.
Purdue hit six of its nine 3-point attempts in the first half and outrebounded Nebraska 23-15. NU freshman forward Leigha Brown’s 3-pointer just before halftime cut into Purdue’s largest lead as NU trailed 40-30 at halftime.
The Boilermakers carried a 60-47 lead into the fourth quarter before NU made a move. Freshman guard Sam Haiby, as she’s done often in fourth quarters this season, triggered it with seven straight points to start the quarter. Purdue held on, however, to keep its slim NCAA tournament hopes alive.
Nebraska thus missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons and any postseason tournament for the second time in three seasons. Nebraska has lost its first game of the Big Ten tournament in three of the past four seasons, as well.
Thursday was the final game for Husker senior Maddie Simon, a Lincoln Pius X graduate who had three points, three rebounds and two assists.
Purdue (19-14).................18 22 20 15—75
Nebraska (14-16).............13 17 17 24—71
PU: McLaughlin 4-16 2-2 13, Oden 9-15 1-2 20, Traylor 5-7 2-2 12. Farquhar 3-11 0-0 6, Harris 4-8 5-9 13, Whilby 4-7 0-0 11, Gony 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-65 10-15 75.
NU: Whitish 3-6 0-0 9, Cain 5-7 0-0 10, Brown 3-8 4-6 11, Mershon 2-6 1-2 5, Eliely 1-5 4-4 6, Veerbeek 0-5 0-0 0, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Simon 1-2 1-4 3, Kissinger 5-11 0-0 15, Haiby 5-13 0-0 12. Totals: 25-65 10-14 71.
3-point field goals: PU 7-17 (McLaughlin 3-9, Oden 1-3, Traylor 0-2, Whilby 3-3), NU 11-25 (Whitish 3-6, Brown 1-3, Mershon 0-1, Veerbeek 0-1, Simon 0-1, Kissinger 5-10, Haiby 2-3).
Rebounds: PU 44 (Farquhar 15), NU 36 (Cain 7). Assists: PU 18 (Traylor 5), NU 15 (Whitish 4).