LINCOLN — Maddie Simon decided she was just going to start screaming.
With Nebraska leading by one and 6.7 seconds left, Wisconsin attempted to inbound the ball for a final chance to knock off the Huskers. Simon covered the inbounder and yelled in her face. Behind Simon, teammates scrambled, the crowd became antsy and five seconds later, a whistle cut through Pinnacle Bank Arena. That five-second violation helped seal the win as the Huskers escaped Wisconsin 51-48 to improve to 18-7 and 9-3 in the Big Ten.
It wasn’t pretty. First time Simon can remember a five-second violation like that. But when you’re on the NCAA tournament bubble, coach Amy Williams said, you’ll take what you can get.
“We’re not usually very excited to have 51 points in games,” Williams said. “But I thought we got some defensive stops when we needed to and we’ll take wins in this league any way we can get them.”
The victory keeps Nebraska in the hunt for a tournament bid and tied with Ohio State for second in the Big Ten.
Sunday’s win was messy for a Nebraska team that last played one week ago — a 64-57 loss to No. 10 Maryland. The Huskers came out slow and cold against the Badgers, shooting 3 for 13 in the first 10 minutes.
“I think the last two ballgames we just felt a little out of sync and not playing within the flow,” Williams said. “(Opponents) are becoming familiar with our team and personnel and taking some things away. We have to be better getting over that hump and take what the defense is giving us.”
Kate Cain muscled in eight points, but she was the only Husker starter with a field goal in the first half as Nebraska trailed 28-24 at the halfway mark. The bench chipped in, though.
Redshirt senior guard Janay Morton hit three 3s in the first half and led the Huskers with nine points. In the first 20 minutes, Nebraska shot 34 percent from the field, was 3 for 10 from 3-point range and turned the ball over six times.
“Our bench has really been the difference for our team this year,” Williams said. “In the locker room, that was the one thing I wanted to drive home. Janay Morton came off the bench and carried our offense for us and hit huge 3s to spark us and give us a shot in the arm.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, held a 10-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the first. Marsha Howard burned Nebraska backdoor for layups and 12 first-half points. Sixteen of Wisconsin’s 28 first-half points came in the paint.
Nebraska began the second half with two straight turnovers and fell behind by 10, but the Huskers rebounded by holding Wisconsin scoreless for 3:20. In that span, the Badgers missed seven straight shots and Nebraska sprang an 8-3 run to cut its deficit to two at the end of the quarter.
In the fourth, Simon hit two jumpers early and Nicea Eliely swooped in for an and-one with 3:50 left to give Nebraska a 47-46 lead. From there, Nebraska buckled down, forcing two straight turnovers and a five-second violation to close out the game. The only shot attempted by Wisconsin in the final 1:40 was a half-court heave at the buzzer.
Howard began the day 9 for 10 from the field, but shot 2 for 7 the rest of the way. She finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. Cain led Nebraska with 14 points and nine boards.
“We talk about (defense) every single day. That’s something that’s carried us to where we are now,” Simon said. “Everyone’s bought in on the defensive end. That’s just brought us where we are.”
Where Nebraska now finds itself is on a path for a Feb. 25 rematch with Maryland, which is atop the Big Ten standings. Before that, though, Nebraska will travel to Michigan State Wednesday.
But for now, a win after a week spent marinating on the Maryland loss feels pretty good.
“A win is always important but a win like this — with a game where shots are not falling, it shows we can really pull out in the end and still get a win,” Cain said. “Which is nice.”
Wisconsin (9-17, 2-11)…….12 16 10 10—48
At Nebraska (18-7, 9-3)…….8 16 12 15—51
W: Fredrickson 1-6 0-0 2, Howard 11-17 1-3 23, Beverley 2-5 0-0 4, McMorris 4-15 0-0 11, Van Leeuwen 0-5 0-0 0, Laszewski 1-1 0-0 2, Gilreath 2-3 0-0 6, Marble 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 1-3 48.
N: Simon 2-6 4-6 8, Cain 7-10 0-0 14, Cincore 0-2 0-0 0, Eliely 1-6 1-1 3, Whitish 1-8 0-0 2, Blackburn 0-0 0-0 0, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Washington 1-2 0-0 2, Kissinger 4-9 2-2 11, Morton 3-6 0-0 9, Stallworth 1-1 0-0 2, Wood 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-50 7-9 51.
3-point goals: W 5-12 (McMorris 3-5, Gilreath 2-2, Fredrickson 0-1, Beverley 0-1, Van Leeuwen 0-1, Marble 0-2), NU 4-17 (Morton 3-5, Kissinger 1-4, Cincore 0-1, Eliely 0-1, Simon 0-3, Whitish 0-3). Assists: W 14 (Beverley 4), NU 12 (Whitish 6). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: W 30 (Howard 9), NU 37 (Cain 9). Total fouls: W 14, NU 12. Technical fouls: None. Att.: 6,823.