LINCOLN — Nebraska’s and Purdue’s fifth clash as budding Big Ten women’s basketball rivals didn’t quite make it to overtime. After the Huskers had completed a long comeback Sunday to tie it, NU coach Connie Yori was sure it would.
“Everybody thought it was going to overtime,” Yori said. Three NU-Purdue games in three years have.
A Boilermaker bucket with 1.7 seconds left said otherwise, as did the floor scoreboards at Pinnacle Bank Arena one hour after the game: Purdue 77, Huskers 75. It was the quick, feisty Boilermakers’ fourth straight win in the series. And it was Nebraska left encouraged by its effort — especially in clawing out of a nine-point deficit with five minutes left — but short of a win.
“It’s really good to see our kids fight back, hang in there and be persistent,” Yori said. “You hate losing two-point games, but at the same time, I like our moxie, our toughness.”
Just not those final seconds, when Purdue guard April Wilson drove all the way to the basket, drawing all of No. 18 NU’s defense to her. She missed the layup, but Boilermaker forward Whitney Bays grabbed the miss and flipped it back in. Purdue’s small contingent of fans — mostly supporters of point guard and Lincoln Southeast graduate KK Houser, who had 16 points and six steals — popped out of their seats, a tiny pocket of noise among the otherwise stunned 6,196.
“We didn’t contain the dribbler, and we didn’t box out,” junior forward Emily Cady said.
Said junior guard Tear’a Laudermill: “We were in the right position for a rebound, but somehow she just got it and put it back up.”
Bays did that often in the second half for No. 22 Purdue (13-5, 3-3 Big Ten). She scored all 19 of her points in the final 18:16. Bays got isolated post-up chances against Cady, banged Cady under the basket with an arm bar or a shoulder, and poured in five footers.
“She made some tough shots,” Yori said. “We were there on some of her catches, and she made them. She was pretty powerful.”
Bays is also the only decent post player Purdue has, and she missed all three of her shots in the first half. Why couldn’t NU contain her in the second?
Yori said double teams to help Cady were often late or nonexistent. This might have been because Purdue had hit so many 3-pointers early in the game — eight in the first half — that Nebraska (13-4, 3-2) was reluctant to leave the guards. All-Big Ten forward Jordan Hooper also had three fouls and may not have wanted to pick up another. Hooper wasn’t one of the players in the postgame press conference.
Despite these defensive struggles and another rough offensive game (nine points, 2 of 10 shooting) from Hooper — who Yori said “looked tired from the very get-go” — NU hung around, hitting shots. Rachel Theriot scored 19 points. Cady had 13 points and 16 rebounds. Hailie Sample, who’d had little offensive impact in Big Ten play, scored 12. And Laudermill hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the score at 73-73 with 1:22 left.
“I knew I was hot, so coach wrote up a play for me,” Laudermill said.
Bays made it 75-73 with 49 seconds left. Theriot’s two free throws tied it 75-75 with 29 left. That set up Wilson’s drive and Bays’ putback.
The Boilermakers played in honor of Riley Smith, a young Purdue fan who died this weekend of complications from Niemann-Pick disease. The girl was particularly close to Houser, who posted a picture of her and Riley on Instagram Sunday morning.
Purdue coach Sharon Versyp wore purple — Riley’s favorite color — while the team wore purple “P’s” on their shoes in Smith’s memory. Houser, Bays, Versyp and guard Courtney Moses all teared up in the Purdue press conference.
“KK and Riley had a special, special bond,” Versyp said. “I was worried about all of them, but KK in particular. We talked and we cried and we talked. She knew she was going to go out even more and honor her. I couldn’t be more proud of them. A lot of people would have come in and laid an egg today.”
Though disappointed, Yori saw the positives in the loss, too. The Big Ten will be full of close games this year, she said. NU’s won two of those. It lost Sunday. A lesson learned.
“We’re not throwing in the hat because it’s Jan. 19 and we lost a game,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”