Trips to Lincoln, Nebraska can be difficult.
Last year, the Michigan women’s basketball team narrowly secured a hard-fought overtime victory on the road over the Cornhuskers.
In the rematch, Nebraska exacted revenge. The Wolverines (9-4 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) fell to the Cornhuskers (6-6 overall, 1-0), 70-56. It was Nebraska’s fifth straight win at home.
The eventual scoreline was deceiving though. In fact, using their defense as a catalyst, Michigan had a four-point edge going into halftime. Every time Nebraska had made a run, the Wolverines responded with a defensive stand.
After Michigan gave up two quick baskets to start the game, sophomore guard Deja Church swatted a driving layup into the stands.
Everyone was contributing to the cause. Moments after checking in to the game, freshman forward Naz Hillmon stepped in front of a determined Ashtyn Veerbeek to take a charge.
As time dwindled down in the second quarter, freshman point guard Amy Dilk picked the pocket of Cornhusker point guard, Hannah Whitish — leading to foul shots on the other end.
Whether it was through steals, blocks, taking charges or contesting shots, the Wolverines used everything in their defensive arsenal to gain an advantage. Nebraska’s 32-percent shooting and ten turnovers in the first half validated Michigan’s effort.
“I thought we were actually great defensively in the first half,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “ I thought in the first half we should have been up a little bit more. That may have helped us later in the game.”
In the second half, the Cornhuskers flipped the script on the Wolverines. Though Dilk and sophomore guard Deja Church provided Michigan with some offense, Nebraska outpaced them.
With eight minutes left in the game and senior center Hallie Thome on the bench with four fouls, the Wolverines surrendered the lead when the Cornhusker’s Kate Cain converted a difficult hookshot over Hillmon.
“When Hallie picked up her fourth foul in the fourth quarter that really hurt us,” Barnes Arico said. “I think that was a turning point for them in the game. Hallie was playing really well for us, whether that was scoring or screening or rebounding, and when she’s not in the game, obviously we’re a different team.
“It was questionable. The call was a moving screen, way away from the ball, so I have to go back and look at that.”
From there Nebraska methodically pulled away. Much like Michigan had done in the first half, the Cornhuskers relied on their defense to gain an advantage.
Dilk’s steady hand from earlier in the game gave way to lackadaisical ball-handling — especially in the fourth quarter. Traveling violations and a few ill-advised passes — including a cross-court attempt from Hillmon and a forced dish by Munger — plagued the Wolverine offense.
Nebraska translated these defensive stops into easy buckets on the other end. In the fourth quarter alone, the Cornhuskers scored 33 points. The stout Michigan defense on display in the first half was nowhere to be seen by the final few minutes.
“I think the foul trouble really hurt us,” Barnes-Arico said. “They went to the foul line 14 times in the fourth quarter. They got in the bonus early. That definitely hurts. We’ve kinda been in this situation, being on the road in the fourth quarter, and I think with our inexperience, especially with (Thome) not in the game, that is an area where we need to continue to work and continue to improve.”
With the help of its crowd, Nebraska grew increasingly confident and never looked back.