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Photo Credit: John Peterson

Huskers Head Into Road Rematch Against Illinois

February 21, 2023

Nebraska women’s basketball is heading into a rematch with the team that started its current four-game losing streak.

The Huskers played Illinois less than two weeks ago, losing in large part due to a 20-0 run that flipped a 10-point lead to a double-digit deficit. Since that 72-64 defeat, Nebraska took close losses to No. 12 Michigan and Minnesota on the road before Saturday’s 20-point home loss to No. 7 Iowa.  

This recent stretch has taken Nebraska from being projected from one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament to one of the first teams left out. Winning the final two games, starting with the second matchup against the Illini, may be a necessary start for getting back in the field.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to have a rematch against the Illini,” Williams said after the game against Iowa. “It’s tough to go on the road and win in this league, but I think our team feels like we want to gain some momentum heading into the conference tournament. So nothing better than trying to start with a road win.”

The now-ranked Fighting Illini have split the two games they’ve played since beating Nebraska. They were outscored 31-8 in the third quarter during a loss to Maryland, but bounced back in a blowout victory over Penn State. 

Genesis Bryant played a sizable role in the latter matchup, scoring 21 points off the bench in her first game returning from injury. The junior guard suffered a lower leg injury late in the first quarter against the Huskers. She averages 15 points per game for Illinois, the second-highest mark on the team.  

Still, Illinois won without her production in its trip to Lincoln. Nebraska held a respectable lead for most of the contest before giving up the aforementioned second-half run. Avoiding stretches like that will surely be key to bringing about a favorable result. 

While perhaps not always the main cause for defeat, second-half defense has been a consistent struggle this month. In the last six games, the Huskers have averaged 31.7 first-half points allowed but 45 second-half points. That’s resulted in games where the offense can’t keep up after halftime, and some where the defensive failures don’t allow Nebraska to make up an early deficit.

Another, potentially connected struggle has been the bench production. Nebraska’s been relying more on its starters as of late, both in minutes and production. The five-person bench unit has totaled single-digit points in three of the last four games, and put up 10 in the other. Prior to this losing streak, the season-low for bench points in a game was 10.

Whether that trend continues will be worth watching on Wednesday.

With two games left in the regular season, Nebraska’s place in the Big Ten standings is close to being solidified. It stands at eighth right now, and isn’t able to move any higher than that. The Huskers also can’t finish any lower than 10th, having beat the teams in 11th and 12th who are two games back. Michigan State is half-a-game back, and Rutgers is a full game behind. Switching places with the Spartans wouldn’t mean anything, as the eighth and ninth seed play each other in the conference tournament.

Illinois can move up to fifth or down to seventh in the final two games, so this will be an important one for the Illini as well.

Both teams are looking to build momentum going into the conference bracket, and Nebraska may be in more desperate need given its NCAA Tournament outlook. Whether that will translate to a season series-tying win on Wednesday is yet to be seen.

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