Sam Haiby - Feb. 22, 2020

Nebraska’s Sam Haiby (4) tries to protect the ball during the game against Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Last season, the Nebraska women’s basketball team finished 10th in the Big Ten with a conference record of 7-11, while Illinois finished with a conference record of 2-16. With 20 total Big Ten games for both teams, each side went into the conference opener searching for their first conference win.

The Fighting Illini and Huskers battled throughout the game, with 12 ties and 14 lead changes by the end. Thankfully for head coach Amy Williams’ crew, Nebraska who came out on top 78-72. 

This win came in large part from junior guard Sam Haiby and sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne having career nights in scoring, with the two combining for 54 points. Haiby led the charge for the Huskers, finishing the night with a career-high 33 points. She went 9-for-17 from the field and also made 14-of-16 free throws. She also finished the night with nine rebounds and two steals. 

Bourne was right behind Haiby with a career high 21 points, going 8-for-13 from the field. She also had eight rebounds and two steals. Both Haiby and Bourne were all over the court against Illinois, with Bourne in particular playing multiple roles. 

“I was pleased with [Isabelle] Bourne’s performance,” Williams said postgame. “She’s embraced everything we’ve thrown at her. We put her in different positions and she did a great job of handling each spot. It’s not easy to do yet she handled it.”

Another notable performance was from Eastern Washington transfer junior forward Bella Cravens, who tied a career high with 16 rebounds in the game. This played a significant role in keeping the Huskers in the contest.

“Bella was huge,” Williams said. “Every time we needed a stop she came away with a big rebound. It’s a strength of hers and to see her come out in her first Big Ten game and play the way she played was amazing.”

From the tip-off it was back-and-forth action throughout. In the first quarter, Illinois started its first of many attempts to run away with the lead. This, however, was never all that dominant; the Illini’s biggest lead of the quarter was four. Despite being behind for a majority of the game, Nebraska came back each and every time.

“With [Trinity] Brady out, we needed everyone to come in and step up,” Williams said. “From what I saw tonight, everyone did step up in a big way.”

After tying things up at 21 at the end of the first quarter, the two teams continued their duel, going into the half with Illinois up 40-39. The Illini were forced to take a number of bad 3-point shots throughout the game, making just 9-of-23 attempts from beyond the arc — which was exactly what Williams wanted from her squad. 

“Illinois is dangerous when they’re in the paint,” Williams said. “So our goal was to keep them outside of it, but we also knew that once they started landing three-point shots we would have to adjust which is what we did.”

Illinois once again attempted to pull away at the start of the third quarter, taking a 44-39 lead. The Huskers, however, sparked a 7-0 run to jump ahead 46-44 less than four minutes into the quarter. The Illini then responded with an 8-0 run to take a 52-46 lead. Nebraska once again bounced back and headed into the fourth quarter up 55-54. 

Enter Haiby. After only scoring six points against Idaho State, the guard lit up the court in the second half and dropped 21 points in the final two quarters. Haiby’s performance, along with the Huskers going 13-for-14 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter and going on a 15-5 run in the last three minutes, put the game away.

“[Sam] Haiby knew somebody had to step up in this game,” Williams said. “Illinois had a good defense and game plan against us, but once Sam got comfortable with them, she did an excellent job attacking, getting herself to the free throw line and creating offense.”

The Huskers will switch back to non conference play for a rivalry game on the road at 1-3 Creighton, a team which is coming off its first win of the season against Butler. Tipoff is at 5 p.m.