Nebraska women’s basketball rebounds after rough start to hand Kansas its first loss

LINCOLN — Kansas coach Brandon Schneider paraphrased a famous quote from former NFL coach Dennis Green and dressed it up more nicely when discussing the Nebraska women’s basketball team.

The Huskers, he said, were what he thought they would be.

Never mind the 2-5 record they took into Wednesday night’s game with the Jayhawks, who entered 6-0 and receiving votes in both major polls.

“They’re going to have the same type of season, I think, that they had a year ago,” Schneider said. “They can have an NCAA-type season. They’ve just got to get their mojo.”

The Huskers, playing at home for the first time in 24 days, beat the Jayhawks 58-52 before 3,688 at Pinnacle Bank Arena, using scrappy defense and rebounding to overcome 22 turnovers and 33 percent shooting from the floor.

Veterans Taylor Kissinger and Hannah Whitish paced the Huskers with 11 points apiece, and Kissinger added 11 rebounds.

But the game’s momentum changed when kids were on the floor. Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek, a 6-foot-2 forward from Sioux Center, Iowa, also grabbed 11 rebounds to go with seven points and three blocked shots. Fellow freshman post Kayla Mershon added seven rebounds, helping the Huskers finish with a 64-43 advantage on the boards.

And freshman guard Sam Haiby contributed eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

The freshmen helped key a 17-2 run that turned a 19-11 deficit into a 28-21 halftime lead. The numbers that best illustrate their impact: In Veerbeek’s 18 minutes, the Huskers outscored the Jayhawks by nine. In Mershon’s 20 minutes, they were plus-15.

Both players hustled to grab rebounds outside their usual defensive areas, NU coach Amy Williams said. They helped the Huskers achieve their No. 1 goal entering the game: Be the harder working team.

Haiby, meanwhile, helped awaken an NU offense that had 11 points through 15 minutes and finished the first half with 15 turnovers.

“Sammy, she’s kind of strange. She’ll lull you to sleep,” Williams said. “You think she’s really not going to do anything. She’s kind of looking stuck in the mud. And boom! She just explodes to the basket. She’s by you before you know what’s happened.”

Both Haiby and Veerbeek impressed KU’s Schneider.

“Their entire freshman class I really like,” he said. “But I thought those two kids, they have a bright, bright future.”

Williams said all of her post players, including sophomore starter Kate Cain (six rebounds, three blocks), helped close driving lanes and limit the Jayhawks to 25 percent shooting (19 of 75).

Schneider said his team took a lot of bad shots. But he acknowledged that the Huskers’ length bothered his players.

Williams said her Huskers have plenty of work to do to duplicate last season’s NCAA tournament run.

“It’s certainly not characteristic of an NCAA tournament team to have 22 turnovers in a game,” she said.

But she was smiling as she spoke. It’s been a rough start to the season for the third-year coach, whose team has lost three times to ranked teams and had dropped four of five, all on the road, entering Wednesday’s game.

So she’ll take a victory, even with all the turnovers and missed shots.

“We like to find ways to win,” she said. “And even if it’s win ugly, we’ll take it.”