Nebraska women’s basketball snapped its four-game losing streak Wednesday with a blowout win on the road against No. 25 Illinois.
The 90-57 victory was the Huskers’ biggest win since the season opener against Nebraska-Omaha. They shot 59% from the field, every starter scored in double-digits while shooting over 50% and Illinois was held to 23.5% shooting after halftime. It was a big win for a team that had fallen outside the projected tournament field and is currently fighting to get back in it.
“I’m really proud of our team and they’ve continued to just grind through the ups and downs that this season has brought and they’ve just stayed committed and stayed focused and continued to work,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame on Huskers Radio Network. “I thought today they were really committed to our game plan and we started to put lots of pieces together had lots of contributions.”
Standing out among those contributors was Jaz Shelley. The junior guard finished with 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting, hitting six threes. Along with that, she recorded five rebounds and six assists in her 38 minutes on the floor.
“It was incredible and it was fun to play,” Shelley said postgame. “I mean, everyone stepped up when they needed to and we just played a good style of basketball tonight. And it was really fun.”
Shelley’s successful night started in a high-scoring opening quarter. She made her first three shots, all 3s, as both teams had scored 19 points eight minutes into the first period. The scoring was balanced, however. Nebraska entered the second quarter leading 26-23 with seven players scoring. Illinois had six players contribute during that span.
The Illini never led after the first quarter, but they did tie it up at 30 to force a Nebraska timeout. Maddie Krull had scored back-to-back impressive buckets inside to stretch it to a 30-25 advantage, but Illinois responded a few possessions later with five points in a span of 16 seconds.
Isabelle Bourne ignited a key stretch out of the timeout, scoring on three straight possessions for the Huskers to put them up six. The forward finished the game with her third double-double of the year, putting up 16 points and 13 rebounds. Later on in the second quarter, Shelley’s fourth 3-pointer of the game gave Nebraska its first double-digit advantage, and Sam Haiby nailed a jumper to end the team’s highest scoring first half of the season.
Illinois fought back coming out of the break, although it really ended up relying on a single player. Genesis Bryant, who suffered an injury in the first quarter of the previous matchup between the two teams, opened the third quarter by hitting a contested 3 and then putting some moves on Maddie Krull for another made jumper.
The Huskers responded with an 11-0 run, highlighted by four more points from both Shelley and Bourne. That made for an 18-point advantage, and the lead was extended to 21 by the end of the quarter.
Nebraska kept its foot on the gas from there. Illinois guard Makira Cook scored eight early points to make it a 17-point difference and bring on another Husker timeout, but Shelley responded. She threw an assist to Krull for a made corner 3, made a 3 of her own and got to the free throw line for two more points. That was the start of Nebraska’s 18-2 run to end the contest, sealing the team’s third win over a ranked opponent this season.
Making sure they didn’t let up was a key for the Huskers. They led Illinois by 10 points in the last matchup before allowing a late 20-0 run in the home loss. That game started the team’s streak of four straight losses, and that was something they remembered as they built a lead Wednesday.
“We brought that up as as the game was going on,” Shelley said of the team’s Feb. 9 loss to the Illini. “‘It’s not over, it’s not over, it’s not over,’ and we kept repeating it because we weren’t gonna let that happen again. And that’s where we needed to learn from our mistakes and we were able to do that.”
Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament hopes are also likely not over as a result of this win. An impressive conference tournament showing may be necessary as well for a spot in the bracket to come to fruition, but the Huskers will first look to finish the season strong on Sunday at home against Northwestern.