Free throws spur Nebraska over Michigan, 74-71
Somehow, some way, the Michigan women’s basketball team could still win. Senior forward Hailey Brown had made two improbable 3-pointers in a row, in the face of a defender, to claw the Wolverines back within three, with possession and eight seconds left.
Freshman guard Maddie Nolan took the inbound, finding sophomore forward Naz Hillmon with her back to the basket. Hillmon pump-faked a couple times, the play busted, before dishing it out to sophomore Danielle Rauch. Rauch, the seconds dwindling, gave it to sophomore forward Emily Kiser — her shot, awkward from the start, a mile wide.
Nolan gathered it under the basket, though, sprinting to the corner and sent one last prayer up as the buzzer sounded.
It wasn’t answered, and the Wolverines (12-6 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) fell to Nebraska (14-4, 4-3) on Sunday, 74-71.
The Cornhuskers stormed back from a 13-point deficit early in the third quarter, attacking the 3-point line and the free throw line, two patterns that became clear on their first possession when senior Hannah Whitish watched her 3-pointer bounce around the rim and fall down. Whitish didn’t slow down, shooting 6-for-8 from three and giving Michigan’s defense nightmares.
Yet, unlike in previous games when an opposing hooter caught fire from long, the Wolverines answered with Brown, who shot 83.3 percent from three. Nolan, Rauch and Kiser each added their own and Michigan shot over 50 percent from beyond the arc.
The Wolverines had no answer for Nebraska at the line, who cashed in — shooting 20-for-24 from the charity stripe.
“I feel like things didn’t go our way,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I don’t know if that was an officiating thing or what, but we couldn’t get a call down the stretch and it seemed like they got the whistles down the stretch. They got to the free throw line both in the third and fourth quarter, which was a really different swing than in the first half.
“(The calls) took us out of what we were doing and changed the momentum. They seemed to be more of the aggressor in the second half.”
Worn down by fouls, sophomore guard Amy Dilk left the game with five fouls late in the fourth quarter after landing on a Nebraska player late in the shot clock. Brown, after making two clutch threes, used her final foul to save time on the clock.
The Wolverines were forced to go to their bench for big points, and for the most part it contributed.
After senior forward Kayla Robbins suffered a non-contact knee injury just over a minute into the game, Rauch came in to replace her — playing a season high 31 minutes. Nolan, coming on late in with eight seconds left in the first quarter nailed a buzzer-beater 3-pointer, going on to play 15 minutes throughout the game.
To start the second quarter, senior guard Akienreh Johnson was the only starter on the court. In five minutes, freshman center Izabel Varejão scored eight points and Michigan maintained a solid lead.
A weakness for the team to start Big Ten play showed it wasn’t one.
“I thought they were great, I thought Danielle Rauch was outstanding,” Barnes Arico said. “She did a really good job, Maddie Nolan gave us some good minutes for sure. Our bench is definitely going to have to step up and really help us with having Kayla out.”
But as the clock wound down and the Wolverines needed a clutch shot, their starters weren’t there to provide one. Their experience sat on the bench, watching.