While the men struggled with No. 6 Michigan State at home Thursday night, the women jumped all over Illinois on the road.
Nebraska raced out to a 19-5 lead in the first quarter and used a 10-2 run in the second quarter to down Illinois 77-67 and move to 8-9 on the season and 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Illini dropped to 9-8 and 1-5 in conference play.
Sophomore wing Taylor Kissinger and junior point guard Hannah Whitish got things rolling early — Kissinger hit two triples in the first two minutes and Whitish had two of her own in the span of a minute midway through the first — but the freshmen powered Nebraska to the win.
Forward Ashtyn Veerbeek erupted for a career-high 19 points off the bench to lead four Huskers in double figures (Whitish, 12; Kissinger, 10; freshman wing Leigha Brown, 10). Veerbeek’s previous career-high was 14 points and she matched through three quarters. The 6-foot-2, Sioux Center, Iowa, native shot 67 percent from the field, added eight rebounds and a block, and drilled a dagger 3 with 1:45 left in the game to put the Huskers up 10.
Thirteen of the 21 third-quarter points were scored by freshmen. Brown continues to be an offensive spark plug for the Huskers, finding ways to score despite a shot that wouldn’t fall (0-of-3 from deep but four attempts at the line), and freshman point Sam Haiby did her usual damage with seven points, three steals, two boards and two assists off the bench.
Nebraska never trailed in this one. The only period of time where things were tied? The first 20 seconds before anyone scored. In the first quarter, the lead was as large as 14 points. In the second quarter, the Illini got it to seven points twice but never any closer (Veerbeek had answers both times). For the game, Illinois never got within fewer than five after that opening barrage.
Perhaps changing up the starting lineup — swapping senior tweener forward Maddie Simon for more of the defensive-minded Kayla Merson — fueled the defensive effort. Because though the Huskers gave up 23 to Illinois guard Arieal Scott, the Illini shot 39 percent from the field for the game and turned the ball over 17 times.
The Huskers lost the rebounding battle but outscored Illinois at the foul line (20 makes to 10), in the paint and on the break.
Next up for the Huskers is No. 23 Minnesota (13-4, 2-4 Big Ten) at home on Sunday. Tipoff in that game is set for 5 p.m. CT.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.