INDIANAPOLIS—Nebraska forward Bella Cravens knocked away a pass intended for Minnesota’s Grace Cummings, and Sam Haiby scooped it up going coast-to-coast for a bucket.
Kendall Coley drained a last-second 3-pointer to provide the Huskers with their largest lead of the first quarter and give NU a 16-11 advantage to enter the second.
From there it was off to the races.
No. 8 seed Nebraska powered past No. 9 seed Minnesota 72-61 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers will face No. 1 seed Maryland at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Kate Cain and Isabelle Bourne started the second quarter with back-to-back jumpers, and Coley delivered with another 3-point dagger to expand the lead to 23-14 with 7:17 left in the first half.
Nebraska took advantage of a Minnesota scoring drought that lasted more than six minutes and outscored UM 22-10 in the second quarter. NU had an 18-3 run starting with Haiby’s fast-break layup toward the end of the first.
“That second quarter was huge,” coach Amy Williams said. “If you tap back into the very tail end of the first quarter, I thought Kendall Coley really sparked us with a huge 3.”
Minnesota’s top three leading scorers — Jasmine Powell, Kadi Sissoko and Sara Scalia — were unavailable due to injury, and UM struggled to find consistent scoring.
Katie Borowicz, who was in high school just a few months ago, earned her first career start for Minnesota and had 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. She sparked Minnesota with eight fourth-quarter points.
The Golden Gophers were also led by Gadiva Hubbard, the most experienced player available, who had 12 points and four assists.
Haiby went 4 of 6 from the floor for 11 points in the first half. She finished with a team-high 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Whitney Brown also had a big half for the Huskers. Even though she didn’t score, she delivered five dimes and helped NU expand its lead.
The Huskers outscored Minnesota 34-16 in the paint.
“That was something that we talked about … really taking advantage and pounding it and having a post presence and being able to produce paint touches and points in the paint throughout the ballgame,” Williams said. “Kate and Issie did a nice job of that, even Bella when she came in gave us a little spark here or there.”
Cain put up 16 points and brought down six rebounds. Bourne contributed 14 points and seven rebounds. Cravens had five points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals in her 18 minutes.
Nebraska went ice cold in the third quarter and shot 4 of 21 from the floor. Bourne drained two 3-pointers in the remaining two minutes. The Golden Gophers also shot poorly in the third quarter, going 4 of 17 on field-goal attempts.
Minnesota struggled shooting the entire game but caught a second wind and shot 55% from the floor in the fourth quarter. It shot 38.3% on the game.
In the team’s first two matchups, the Golden Gophers outperformed Nebraska in the fourth quarter to sweep the regular-season series.
“It was definitely brought up, mentioned in the huddle in the fourth quarter, that we tend to let up a little bit,” Haiby said. “So there’s definitely a point of emphasis to keep our foot on the gas.”
Nebraska stomped on the gas and shot 66.7% in the last quarter to fend off a fourth-quarter surge from the Gophers. Ashley Scoggin put up six of her nine points in the fourth quarter. Haiby, who is on the All-Big Ten second team, also contributed six points.
NU starter Ruby Porter sobered the arena when she suffered what appeared to be a left leg injury and was carried off the court toward the end of the third quarter.
“It’s a locker room of just mixed emotions right now. Obviously, we have a team that’s concerned for their teammate,” Williams said.
Despite that, the Huskers are celebrating advancing in the Big Ten tournament to battle Maryland next.
“We know how tough it is to get wins in March period, but particularly down here in this Big Ten tournament,” Williams said. “So for us to be able to beat a good Minnesota team and to bounce back after a couple of losses during the regular season and beat them down here, it feels great and something we want to celebrate and be excited about that we’re still marching.”