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Nebraska overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to take a 54-53 lead with 37 seconds left, but Northwestern made the plays in the closing seconds to escape with a 58-54 women’s basketball win over the Huskers at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday night.
Nebraska slipped to 4-4 in the Big Ten and 9-10 overall with its sixth loss by two possessions or less this season, while Northwestern improved to 5-3 in the Big Ten and 12-7 overall.
Nebraska led 21-19 with one minute left in the first half, but the Wildcats erupted on a 10-0 run with the final six points of the first half and the first four points of the second half to build an eight-point lead.
Northwestern sophomore Lindsey Pulliam, who finished with a game-high 21 points, scored 10 of the Wildcats’ 12 points in the third quarter, including a jumper with 4:10 left to give the Cats their biggest lead of the night at 33-23.
As Nebraska has shown all season, the Huskers refused to go away, rallying to cut the Northwestern lead to 37-34 at the end of three quarters.
The Wildcats answered with five points from Sydney Wood in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to regain a 42-34 lead, before the Huskers rallied again.
Hannah Whitish, who led the Huskers with 12 points on four three-pointers on the night, buried a three with 8:14 left, before Taylor Kissinger got a traditional three-point play, slashing the Wildcat margin to 44-40 with 7:24 left.
The lead remained at four before Kissinger hit her only three of the night with 4:16 left to trim Northwestern’s edge to 49-48. Pulliam put the Cats back up 53-50 with a jumper, before Whitish tied the game at 53 with her final three of the night with 1:03 remaining.
The Huskers then got a big defensive play with a steal that resulted in Nicea Eliely getting fouled after diving on the floor for a loose ball with 37.8 seconds left. Eliely made the second of two free throws to briefly give the Huskers their only lead of the second half at 54-53.
However, Northwestern senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah drove for a layup with 25 seconds left to give Northwestern the lead at 55-54, and the Huskers were unable to score the rest of the way. Akpanah finished with 10 points and a game-high 19 rebounds to go along with four blocks, helping the Wildcats out-rebound the Huskers 51-41 on the night.
Veronica Burton then pushed the lead to three points with a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds left for her only two points of the game, before a steal by Jordan Hamilton led to a Husker foul. Hamilton, who finished with 12 points including three three-pointers, sank her second free throw with 3.3 seconds left to seal the win.
Nebraska held a one-point lead in the final minute despite shooting a season-low 29.2 percent (19-65) from the field. The Huskers did hit eight three-pointers, but shot just 28.6 percent (8-28) from long range. Nebraska also hit just 8-of-14 free throws (.571).
The Huskers played some of their best defense of the season, holding the Wildcats to just 35.9 percent (23-64) shooting, including 5-of-16 threes (.313). The Wildcats also struggled at the free throw line, going just 7-for-12 (.583).
Although Northwestern was plus-10 on the boards, the Huskers answered by winning the turnover battle 14-8. Nebraska’s eight turnovers were a season best.
Although Whitish was the only Nebraska player in double figures, all 10 Huskers contributed at least one point and one rebound in the game. Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek had nine points and five rebounds while tying her career best for the second straight game with three blocks. Nicea Eliely added seven points and a pair of steals, while Taylor Kissinger and Leigha Brown each pitched in six points. Freshman Kayla Mershon had a team-best seven rebounds, while also adding five points, one block and two steals.
In a low-scoring first half, Nebraska led 11-9 at the end of one quarter and maintained a 21-19 lead with 1:07 left in the second quarter, before Northwestern closed the half on a 6-0 run to take a 25-21 lead into halftime.
Whitish led the Huskers with six points in the half with a pair of first-quarter three-pointers, while Mershon added five first-half points, including a first-quarter three-pointer. Nebraska hit just 25 percent (7-28) of its first-half shots against a stingy Wildcat defense, including 3-of-13 threes. The Huskers were 0-for-5 from three-point range in the second quarter. The Wildcats out-rebounded Nebraska 28-19 in the half, but the Huskers won the first-half turnover battle 9-4.
Akpanah led Northwestern with eight points and 13 rebounds, including seven offensive boards. Pulliam added seven points, including a three, while Hamilton pitched in six points on a pair of second-quarter threes. The Huskers held Northwestern to just 31.3 percent (10-32) shooting, but the Wildcats hit 3-of-7 threes (.429), including both of their second-quarter attempts.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten Conference road action on Sunday, when the Huskers take on Wisconsin. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison is set for 2 p.m., with live radio coverage by the Husker Sports Network and live video for BTN Plus subscribers.