Jaz Shelley snapped out of her shooting funk Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Illinois.
Behind a team-high 21 points and five 3-pointers from the Moe, Australia, native, the Huskers picked up an 82-63 road win over the Fighting Illini to improve to 18-7 overall and 7-6 against Big Ten opponents. Up next for Nebraska is a home game on Monday night against No. 7 Indiana at 6 p.m. The last time those two played was on Jan. 13 in Bloomington where the Huskers fell 72-65, but not before they put a scare into the Hoosiers.
Shelley has been on a cold streak from 3-point range lately. In the first nine games of the season, she shot 55% (30-of-54) from behind the arc. But in the next 13, she was a 24% (16-of-66) shooter from 3. That changed on Saturday as she found her stroke from deep again by going 5-of-13.
“We’ve been knowing that that stuff tends to balance itself out, and I think she’s had certain parts of this season where she’s been completely on fire and unstoppable,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams told Huskers Radio Network after the game. “She’s struggled a few other games, but I always feel like that stuff is going to balance itself out, and today she shot the ball well and was aggressive-minded offensively.”
Nebraska’s posts had their way Saturday afternoon against Illinois, too—specifically Isabelle Bourne and Bella Cravens. Those two were key players in a first half that saw the Huskers lead the Illini 45-26 at the break. Nebraska wasn’t shy about taking the ball to the hoop against the less-physical Illini—it held a 22-10 advantage in points in the paint at halftime while also outrebounding Illinois 23-10.
Bourne and Cravens combined to score 23 of Nebraska’s 45 points in the first half. Bourne netted 14 points on an efficient 5-of-6 shooting from the field and stung the Illini defense by going 2-of-3 from 3-point range. Cravens came off the bench to score nine points in the first two quarters and nearly recorded a double-double with eight rebounds. Cravens hadn’t reached nine points since the Dec. 22 win over Wyoming.
Bourne finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while Cravens added 12 points and 11 rebounds, which was her second double-double of her career and first this season. Sam Haiby was the fourth Husker in double-figure scoring with 10. She also added eight rebounds and a team-high five assists.
“Issie played really confident to start the game,” Williams said. “I thought she established herself both inside and out. She knocked down a couple threes that gave her some space, but she also just crashed the boards and sparked us in a lot of different ways.”
Cravens has been working to get back into a groove after missing time earlier in the season with an ankle injury. Behind Cravens, Nebraska outrebounded Illinois 43-31 and held the Illini to under 10 offensive boards with nine, which was a challenge from the head coach prior to the contest.
“We watched the game films from our Illinois games one year ago, and she (Cravens) was just the best rebounder on the floor and I really challenged her to be that,” Williams said. “She knew we were going up against Kendall Bostic, who’s leading the Big Ten in rebounding, and she wanted to really establish that part of her game and I’m glad she did. She really sparked us and has that double-double to show for it.”
Illinois was able to crawl back into the game thanks to an 11-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter that cut its deficit to 64-55. But a Shelley 3 stopped that run, and Alexis Markowski got involved offensively with three straight points—two of which came from a putback through traffic after ripping down an offensive board—to end any Illini momentum that there was. Markowski didn’t score or even attempt a shot in the first half on Saturday, but finished with seven points and seven rebounds.
Markowski’s points in the fourth—and that offensive rebound and putback—were big for the Huskers. Williams said the team wanted to do a better job of getting Markowski post touches in the game.
“Really, when we were reeling and needed an inside touch, she just had strong hands and outmuscled them for that offensive rebound-putback,” Williams said. “It was probably the biggest basket of the game.”
Nebraska was without two players in Annika Stewart and Mi’Cole Cayton. Stewart didn’t play with an injury while Cayton was out with a non-COVID illness.