Urbana-Champaign – Sam Haiby scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to rally Nebraska from a fourth-quarter deficit to claim a hard-fought 57-53 women’s basketball win at Illinois on Monday night at the State Farm Center.
Haiby tied her career high with three three-pointers but it was her steal on an Illini inbounds pass with 10 seconds left and then her two free throws with 5.4 seconds left that secured Nebraska’s eighth win of the season to improve to 6-4 in the Big Ten. Nebraska (8-5) also completed a season sweep of Illinois, which slipped to 2-8 overall and 0-7 in the conference.
While Haiby was huge for the Big Red again, she was far the only Husker to step up and make plays. With Nebraska clinging to a 54-53 lead and Illinois inbounding the ball from the sideline next to its bench, Husker MiCole Cayton put heavy pressure on J-Naya Ephraim at half court and stole the ball. Cayton, who was playing in her first game since Nov. 24, 2018, when she was a redshirt sophomore guard at California, was immediately fouled by Ephraim. Cayton made the second of two free throws to put NU up 55-53 and set up Haiby’s final heroics.
A pair of true freshmen also played huge roles in making up for the absence of Husker starter Isabelle Bourne, who missed her third straight game with an ankle injury. Annika Stewart scored 12 points and knocked down a career-high three threes, including back-to-back triples in a one-minute span to give Nebraska the lead for good at 49-46 with 6:42 left in the game.
Ruby Porter, who made her third straight start in place of her fellow Australian Bourne, tied her career high with three threes on her way to a career-high 11 points to give Nebraska three players in double figures. Bourne scored 21 points in the first meeting with Illinois.
Senior Kate Cain contributed five points and a game-high 10 rebounds while anchoring the Husker defense in an impressive performance. Bella Cravens contributed four points and five rebounds despite battling foul trouble, while Cayton finished her first game as a Husker three points at the free throw line.
Nebraska won despite hitting just 29.6 percent (16-54) of its shots from the field, including 9-of-32 three-pointers (.321). The nine threes tied a season high for the second straight game. The Huskers also hit 16-of-22 (.727) free throws, outscoring the Illini 16-3 at the foul line.
The Huskers held Illinois to 37.1 percent (23-62) shooting including just 4-of-16 threes (.250), but the Illini out-rebounded Nebraska, 41-36. Illinois also won the turnover battle, 14-13, but it was Nebraska’s two steals in the closing seconds that sealed the win.
Aaliyah Nye led Illinois with a career-high 15 points, as the only Fighting Illini player in double figures. Starters Eva Rubin and Kennedi Myles each finished with nine points, while Ephraim pitched in eight.
Nebraska is scheduled to be back in action on Thursday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena when the Huskers play host to Wisconsin. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Badgers is set for 7 p.m.