Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Nebraska rattles off fifth-straight Big Ten win to move into second place in conference standings
The Nebraska women’s basketball team has tried to make a habit of holding teams under their average this season.
On Thursday against Illinois, the Huskers went a little ‘overboard,’ and allowed just 1 point in the second quarter, 10 points in the first half and held the Illini 15 points below their season average as part of a 62-47 win.
Nebraska’s defensive dominance gave the Huskers (17-6, 8-2) a 26-10 lead at half, and allowed NU to coast to its fifth-straight Big Ten win by playing the Illini even in a more offensive friendly second half. Nicea Eliely missed just one of her six shot attempts to lead NU with 11 points, and Kate Cain added 9 points on 4-for-7 from the field, but the story of the win was the Husker defense.
“We’ve been talking for a long time about wanting to be able to hang our hat on defense. And to be able to know that’s something we can control,” said NU coach Amy Williams. “I felt like we could have executed better offensively, but sometimes the ball is just not going to go in the basket.”
A last second score by the Illini cut Nebraska’s lead to 14-9 after a quarter, but oddly enough it would be Illinois final basket until of the half. Illinois also opened the scoring in the second quarter on a Cierra Rice free throw. From there, the Huskers went on a 12-0 run into halftime, and held Illinois to 0-for-12 shooting in the quarter.
Both the 10 points in a half and the 1-point second quarter were program records.
Maddie Simon hit a 3-pointer, scored in the post and hit three free throws to lead NU with 8 points in the half. Taylor Kissinger came off the bench to hit a ‘3’ of her own, before sending the Huskers into the break with a spark.
Nebraska went two-for-one in the final minute of the first half, starting with Simon’s layup. Illinois missed on the other end, and Rachel Blackburn grabbed the rebound before finding Simon with an outlet pass. With the clock ticking toward zeroes, Simon shoveled a pass past pressure, and managed to get a bouncing ball to Kissinger in the corner.
Kissinger sped up her shooting motion to beat the clock, and was still able to will it in off the front rim for her second ‘3’ of the half. That tied Kissinger with Simon at 8 points. Hannah Whitish hit a 3-pointer of her own as part of 5 points, and Darrien Washington made both shots she attempted to give NU a much-needed spark off of the bench.
“I think Darrien Washington played one of her better games of the season, and really sparked us” Williams said. “It’s fun to kind of continue to get contributions from all over our roster.”
The second half saw an increased offensive output from both sides, but not much shift in the score. Both teams managed to score 22 points in the third quarter, and the Illini edged NU 15-14 in the fourth as the lead stayed above 13 for the entire fourth quarter after dipping to 11 in the third.
For the game, Illinois shot just 27 percent. Nebraska wasn’t much better at 40 percent. To make up for it, the Huskers used eight 3-pointers and eight free throws to grind out the victory, and had 10 different players score.
Nebraska now turns its attention to Maryland, in a game that will give the Huskers a chance to move into first place in the Big Ten standings. The Huskers sit in second place outright after Purdue knocked off Michigan, and will have a chance to move ahead of the 8-1 Terrapins when No. 11 Maryland comes to Pinnacle Bank Arena this Sunday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.