Nebraska women use lockdown defense to defeat Illinois, set school records

LINCOLN — You may want to skip second quarter film of Nebraska’s 62-47 win over Big Ten basement-dweller Illinois.

The teams combined to miss 25 of 28 shots. Illinois didn’t make one at all. It scored a single point. The Huskers slugged their way to 12 points and led 26-10 at halftime. No NU foe ever scored fewer in a quarter or a half.

But the Illini are winless in the league. Nebraska’s next opponent, on Sunday, has been the conference’s juggernaut since it joined.

Here comes Maryland. NU has never beaten the Terrapins or come within single digits of doing so. Last year’s 93-49 loss was the worst home loss in the program’s history. What’s more, NU, at 8-2, sits second in the Big Ten standings. Maryland, 8-1, is first. Sunday’s game is for the Big Ten lead and the gold star in Nebraska’s résumé that NCAA tournament committee members couldn’t ignore.

So, yeah. It’s kind of a big deal.

“Crazy,” coach Amy Williams said with a wide smile. “But it’s good. It’s just awesome, the opportunity that’s front of us.”

Well, now that Illinois (9-15, 0-10) is behind the Huskers (17-6, 8-2).

Williams and guard Hannah Whitish said NU didn’t have its best offensive night. Nebraska committed 17 turnovers against the grabby, aggressive Illini, which frustrated the Huskers into head-buried-in-hands mistakes.

Because 10 Huskers played double-digit minutes, the lineup was a revolving combination of guards and posts. The chemistry was choppy, and only guard Nicea Eliely (11 points) scored in double figures.

The defense remained stingy. It has been for the past six games, ever since Nebraska gave up 72 to Illinois in Champaign. Since then, opponents have scored just 57.1 points per game.

On Thursday night, the Huskers played tight man-to-man and occasionally switched to a 1-3-1 zone that caused a couple steals. Illinois coach Nancy Fahey, called a few, “What in the world?” timeouts, including one where she stomped her foot on the Pinnacle Bank Arena floor.

Illinois hit just 4 of 27 shots in the first half, and some of the misses were more ideas for shots — the running, over-the-iron scoop, for example — rather than squared-up attempts. Nebraska forced all manner of turnovers. Shot clock violations. Travels. Lob passes thrown out of bounds. Lob passes thrown right to defenders. A few mosh pits of hands and arms and legs scrambling for a loose ball.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on, is defense,” guard Nicea Eliely said. “Knowing we held a team to only 10 points in one half is really rewarding.”

Said Williams: “We’ve been talking for a long time about wanting to hang our hat on defense, and we know that it’s something we can control.”

Nebraska will need its best defense Sunday. Good rebounding, too — Maryland has been the Big Ten’s best rebounding team since it joined the league in 2014.

The Terps, who routed Rutgers 88-60 Thursday night, have won every regular season and tournament title. They’re deep and stocked with top-100 recruits.

As a counter, Nebraska, perhaps the nation’s most surprising team, will welcome what’s sure to be its largest crowd of the season; 4,618 attended Thursday night’s game and more than 6,000 total tickets have been sold for Sunday.

“We know that Maryland is a good team but we have confidence we can beat them,” Whitish said. “Make a statement.”

Illinois (9-15, 0-10)………….9 1 22 15—47

At NU (17-6, 8-2)………….14 12 22 14—62

I: Wittinger 4-14 2-2 10, Beasley 2-8 0-0 5, Cattenhead 3-7 4-5 10, Joens 0-1 0-0 0, Rice 4-9 2-4 13, Andrews 1-2 0-0 3, Ball 1-1 0-0 2, Kinslow 0-0 0-0 0, Robins 0-3 0-0 0, Walker 0-4 2-2 2, Holesinska 1-7 0-0 2, Kirkpatrick 0-2 0-0 0, Moore 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 16-59 10-13 47.

NU: Simon 2-10 3-4 8, Cain 4-7 0-0 8, Cincore 0-4 1-4 1, Eliely 5-6 0-0 11, Whitish 3-9 0-0 8, Blackburn 0-1 0-0 0, Mitchell 1-2 0-1 2, Washington 3-3 0-0 6, Kissinger 2-5 3-4 9, Morton 1-1 0-0 3, Stallworth 2-6 1-2 6, Wood 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 23-57 8-15 62.

3-point goals: I 5-17 (Wittinger 0-2, Beasley 1-1, Cattenhead 0-3, Rice 3-5, Andrews 1-1, Robins 0-1, Holesinska 0-2, Kirkpatrick 0-1, Moore 0-1), NY 8-20 (Simon 1-4, Eliely 1-1, Whitish 2-5, Kissinger 2-4, Morton 1-1, Stallworth 1-2, Wood 0-3). Assists: I 6 (Beasley 2), NU 17 (Whitish 5). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: I 40 (Wittinger 8), NU 43 (Simon 7). Total fouls: I 18, NU 15. Technical fouls: None. Att.: 4,618.

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