All-America candidate Kelsey Griffin had a huge game with 27 points and 14 rebounds to carry the Nebraska women’s basketball team to a 62-45 win over UALR at the Saint Mary’s Hilton Tournament on Friday night.
The Huskers improved to 5-0 with the victory, as Griffin scored 18 points and eight rebounds in the second half to help NU come back from a 23-22 halftime deficit.
UALR, the defending Sun Belt Conference West Division champion, slipped to 3-2 on the season with its only other loss to Oklahoma State in the first game of the Preseason WNIT.
The Trojans, who ranked third nationally in scoring defense last season, held NU to its lowest first-half total of the year with just 22 points. But the Huskers got the tempo in their favor in the second half thanks to big halves from Griffin and fellow seniors Cory Montgomery and Yvonne Turner.
Griffin’s 27 points marked the third-highest total of her career, while her 14 rebounds matched her career high. Her totals also pushed her past 1,400 career points and 700 rebounds, making her just the sixth player in NU history to achieve those plateaus.
Montgomery finished with 15 points and four rebounds, including nine second-half points to complement Griffin’s big effort. Montgomery’s second-half production included back-to-back three-pointers to turn a two-point NU edge into an eight-point lead with 8:30 left. It was the first time the Huskers were able to push the lead to three possessions, and the shots keyed a 14-2 NU surge.
Montgomery’s first three-pointer also earned her a spot in Husker history, as she became just the 24th player all-time to score 1,000 points at Nebraska.
Minutes later Montgomery finished a traditional three-point play to extend Nebraska’s lead to 57-53 with 4:19 left, before NU finished off the 17-point victory.
“Our six seniors did a great job of leading our team in the second half,” Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. “Kelsey Griffin was outstanding in the second half. Cory Montgomery hit some big shots and Vonnie Turner made some key plays and some big baskets. It was a great team win against a very good defensive team that is going to win a lot of games this year.”
While Montgomery was a major player in putting the Trojans away, Griffin carried Nebraska early in the second half, going head-to-head with UALR scoring machine Chastity Reed. Reed entered the game averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, and finished with 23 points and seven boards against the Huskers, after putting up 12 points and six boards in the first half.
Reed scored UALR’s first six points of the second half, but Griffin answered with NU’s first seven points of the second half to tie the score at 29 with 16:58 left.
“Reed’s a great player but we came out in the second half and played some really tough team defense,” Griffin said. “I didn’t feel like I needed to carry the team because I have so many great teammates. It wasn’t just me. Cory hit some huge shots and Vonnie made some great plays at both ends, and Dominique Kelly, Kala Kuhlmann and Nicole Neals did a great job of limiting Reed’s touches.”
Turner then sparked the Huskers with six straight points, but a Reed basket kept UALR within 35-33 and give her 20 points with nearly 15 minutes left in the game.
A Griffin three-pointer then pushed NU’s lead to 38-33 with 14:15 left before UALR got five straight points to tie the game at 38 with 11:31 to play. But a Turner layup preceded the back-to-back threes by Montgomery, before Griffin scored six of NU’s next eight points to push the lead to 54:42 with 4:50 left.
While Griffin, Montgomery and Turner, who finished with all eight of her points in the second half fueled the NU surge, Reed was held scoreless for nearly 10 minutes by a hard-working Husker defense.
Nebraska finished the game hitting 51 percent (25-49) of its shots, including 17-of-29 (58.6 percent) in the second half. The Huskers, who entered the game averaging 9.5 three-pointers per game, managed just three triples on 11 attempts for the game, but hit 3-of-6 in the second half. NU hit 9-of-14 free throws and outrebounded UALR, 37-27. The Huskers committed 22 turnovers, but just eight in the second half, while forcing UALR into 17 miscues, including eight in the final 20 minutes.
The Huskers held UALR to just 19-of-52 shooting (36.5 percent) for the game, including just 1-of-10 three-pointers. The Trojans also hit just 6-of-11 free throws.
Kelley, who drew the primary assignment of defending Reed, managed five points, six rebounds and two assists, while Catheryn Redmon added two points, six rebounds and a steal.
Although Reed finished with 23 points, Asriel Rolfe was the only other Trojan to threaten double figures with eight points. No other UALR player scored more than five points and only six players found the scoring column.
The Huskers went to the locker room at halftime trailing 23-22 after UALR scored the final six points of the half. Griffin led NU with nine points and six rebounds in the first half, while Montgomery scored NU’s first six points but was shut out the rest of half. No other Husker was able to get more than three first-half points against a tough Trojan defense.
NU hit 8-of-20 shots from the field but 0-for-5 three-pointers, while hitting 6-of-9 free throws. Nebraska outrebounded UALR, 18-14, in the first half, but the Huskers committed 14 turnovers while forcing just nine Trojan miscues in the opening stanza.
Reed led all scorers with 12 first-half points, while adding six boards, while Rolfe managed five points. No other Trojan scored more than three points, as UALR hit just 10-of-28 shots from the field and just 1-of-5 three-point attempts. UALR also knocked down just 2-of-4 free throws.
Nebraska wraps up its two-game swing at the Saint Mary’s Hilton Tournament on Saturday, when the Huskers battle the hosts from Saint Mary’s. Tip time against the Gaels is set for approximately 10 p.m., 30 minutes after the conclusion of UALR’s game with Drake. Live radio coverage will be provided by the Husker Sports Network, including 98.1 KFGE in Lincoln and 93.3 KTWI in Omaha, along with free live audio on Huskers.com. A live video stream will also be available to premium subscribers of HuskersNside provided by Saint Mary’s at smcgaels.com.