Indianapolis - Nebraska ran into a stifling Maryland defense, and the No. 17 Terrapins hit a load of mid-range jumpers to shoot their way to a 66-53 victory over the Huskers in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference Women's Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
The third-seeded Huskers who finished the tournament with a 21-10 overall record that included an 11-5 Big Ten regular-season mark, were one of the final three teams standing in the conference tournament. The second-seeded Terps improved to 25-6 overall after a 12-4 mark in regular-season league play. They will face top-seeded Ohio State in tomorrow night's championship game.
Nebraska, which slipped to 9-4 in its last 13 games this season with three of the losses coming to the nationally ranked Terrapins since Feb. 1, could not muster enough offense against a well-prepared Terp team. The Huskers hit just 31.4 percent (16-51) of their shots from the field, but did connect on 8-of-20 threes (.400). The Big Red added 13-of-19 free throws (.684). Nebraska put up its best fight in its three games on the glass against the Terps, but Maryland still outrebounded the Huskers 39-31. The Terrapins also won the turnover battle 12-10.
The Huskers continued to display one of the Big Ten's best defenses as well to stay in the game, holding Maryland to just 1-of-7 shooting from three-point range. But Maryland cashed in on a flurry of 17-foot jumpshots to shoot their way to victory. The Terps also knocked down 19-of-24 free throws.
Maryland got 31 of its 66 points off the bench from two of the nation's top reserves in Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year Ieshia Small and post player Brianna Fraser. Small scored all 13 of her points in the first half, including 12 on mid-range jumpers (6-of-8), while Fraser led all scorers in the game with 18 points. Fraser hit 6-of-7 shots from the field and all six of her free throws in by far the game's most efficient performance.
The Terps also got 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds from starters Eleanna Christinaki and 14 points and seven boards from first-team All-Big Ten forward Kaila Charles. However, Charles and Christinaki combined to go just 9-of-28 from the field.
Nebraska answered with a season-high 15 points from senior guard Janay Morton off the bench, including 3-of-6 threes. Maddie Simon added nine points, while Hannah Whitish, Kate Cain and Emily Wood all pitched in six points. With Morton and Wood leading the way, the Husker bench produced 29 points of its own.
Nebraska overcame a strange start that included an administrative technical after a late uniform number change for Nicea Eliely resulted in 1-of-2 free throws for Maryland's Kristen Confroy before the game officially began. Maryland jumped to a quick 5-0 lead before Simon sparked the Huskers to an 8-7 lead. Maryland regained the edge before Simon and Whitish buried back-to-back threes to give the Huskers a 14-13 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Then Maryland's Small took over. Despite scoring just five total points in the first two meetings with the Big Red this season, Small scored 13 of Maryland's 16 points in a nine-minute span from the end of the first quarter to the 3:30 mark in the second to shoot the Terps to a 27-17 lead.
Nebraska post players Cain and Simon both got into first-half foul trouble and the Husker offense stalled. NU went just 1-for-10 from the field in the quarter but was able to stay in the game by going 6-for-8 at the free throw line, as Maryland took a 32-22 lead to halftime.
In the half, the Huskers held a potent Maryland offense to just 37.9 percent (11-29) shooting, including just 1-of-3 threes, while the Terps hit 9-of-12 free throws.
Nebraska hit just 26.1 percent (6-23) of its shots in the half, including just 2-of-10 threes, while going 8-for-10 at the stripe. The Huskers were outrebounded 21-16 in the half and lost the first-half turnover battle 7-3. Maryland outscored NU 7-0 in points off turnovers.
Simon led the Big Red with nine first-half points while no other Husker scored more than four points, which came with four from Morton at the free throw line.
The Huskers stayed within striking distance throughout the third quarter but Maryland took a 47-32 lead to the fourth. Then Wood helped the Huskers fight back with six straight points to open the quarter on a three-pointer and three straight free throws after she was fouled by Channise Lewis on another three-point attempt. Wood's outburst cut Maryland's lead to 48-38 with 8:10 left. Nebraska stayed within 10 at 52-42 after back-to-back baskets by Cain with 5:31 left, but the Terps would not let the Huskers get any closer the rest of the way.
Nebraska will return to Lincoln and look forward to learning its postseason fate on Monday, March 12, when the NCAA Selection Show reveals the 64 teams in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.