Natalie Romeo scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out five assists to lead three Huskers in double figures, but Missouri Valley Conference champion Northern Iowa erupted for 29 fourth-quarter points to escape with a 64-62 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the first round of the WNIT on Thursday night.
The Huskers ended the season 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten, while Northern Iowa improved to 23-10 and 15-3 in the Valley. UNI will advance to the second round to play conference foe Drake, which ran past Sacred Heart on Thursday night in Des Moines.
Nebraska trailed 17-12 after the opening quarter but used a strong defensive effort to hold the Panthers to just 18 points in the second and third quarters combined. The Big Red won the second quarter 16-8, then added to the lead with a 13-10 win in the third quarter.
The Huskers took their biggest lead of the night at 41-33 off an Emily Wood three-pointer with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
But first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference guard Madison Weekly ignited the Panthers in the fourth. After being held to six points in the first three quarters, Weekly erupted for 16 points in the fourth, sealing the win with six consecutive points to end the game. She finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
Senior forward Jen Keitel was the only other Panther to manage double figures with 15 points and eight rebounds.
The Panthers, who opened the game 5-for-10 from three-point range, missed their next 14 three-point attempts and went to the fourth just 7-for-29 from long range. However, they hit 5-of-11 in the fourth, including two from Weekly, two from Angie Davison and one from Hannah Schonhardt for her only points of the game to give UNI its biggest lead in the quarter at 56-51 with 2:33 left. Schonhardt’s three was UNI’s 12th made three of the night in a Nebraska opponent-record 40 attempts from long range.
The Big Red refused to surrender, cutting the margin to 58-57 on a Romeo three with 1:01 left, and an Allie Havers layup with 21.9 seconds left to make it 60-59 UNI. The 6-5 junior center finished with 10 points and seven rebounds to close the season with five straight double-figure scoring performances.
Sophomore Jasmine Cincore added 10 points, four boards and three assists with just the second double-figure scoring effort of her career. Cincore also played a career-high 36 minutes.
But Weekly hit a pair of free throws as Nebraska elected to send UNI to the line with 16.5 left. Romeo then missed a long three, before Weekly sank the game winners at the line with 3.9 left. They were Northern Iowa’s only made free throws of the night.
Romeo hit her school-record 104th three-pointer of the season with 0.1 second left on the clock to give the final margin. It also gave her a ninth 20-point performance for the season. Over the final five games of the season, playing without injured senior starters Rachel Theriot and Kyndal Clark, Romeo averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
Senior Anya Kalenta contributed six points and two rebounds in her final game as a Husker. Kalenta played 25 minutes in her second career start, while Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jessica Shepard came off the bench. Shepard had not practiced for two weeks because of a stress reaction in her foot. Shepard scored five points and had four rebounds in the first quarter, but did not score the rest of the way, going just 1-of-8 from the field. She did match Romeo with a game-high nine rebounds despite playing just 16 minutes.
Fellow freshman Rachel Blackburn added five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench. Esther Ramacieri contributed a key fourth-quarter three for Nebraska, while grabbing six rebounds, dishing out three assists and snagging two steals. She had to be helped off the floor with just over 40 seconds left in the game, leaving Nebraska with just three guards available (Romeo, Cincore, Wood).
Nebraska hit 41.1 percent (23-56) of its shots from the field, including an impressive 8-of-14 three-pointers. However, the Huskers hit just 8-of-15 free throws. NU outrebounded UNI, 43-37, including a plus-eight margin in the second half. Northern Iowa won the turnover battle, 14-9.
UNI hit just 35.8 percent (24-67) of its shots from the floor, while connecting on 12-of-40 threes and hit 4-of-5 free throws – all in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska took a 28-25 lead to halftime after a huge second quarter from Romeo. The sophomore had 10 points, two rebounds and an assist in the first 6:18 of the quarter to turn a 17-12 first-quarter deficit into a 26-23 NU lead.
However, Romeo picked up her second foul with 3:17 left in the half and went to the bench. But Nebraska maintained the edge to halftime with strong second-quarter defense, outscoring the Panthers, 16-8 in the quarter.
Cincore added seven points in the half, while Shepard contributed five points and five rebounds, with all five points and four rebounds coming in the first quarter.
As a team, the Huskers hit 43.5 percent (10-23) of their shots in the first half, including 3-of-5 threes. The Big Red also hit 5-of-8 free throws. NU was outrebounded 21-19, and lost the first-half turnover battle, 8-7.
Northern Iowa hit just 28.6 percent (10-35) of its field goals, including 5-of-19 threes. The Panthers hit 5-of-10 threes to open the game, before missing their next nine including all seven in the second quarter. UNI did not attempt a free throw in the first half.