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.

With nearly a week gone by since a 76-71 loss to Minnesota, Nebraska entered tonight’s game against Illinois in need of a bounceback performance. 

Despite having their second-worst shooting performance of the year, the Huskers won 57-53, completing the season sweep.

“It was an ugly win,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “But we’ll take a win anyway we can. To score only 57 points tonight but come away with a win shows the effort by our team defensively.”

The biggest factors of the night for the Huskers were junior guard Sam Haiby and freshman forward Annika Stewart, who combined to score 18 of the team’s 19 points in the fourth quarter to seal the game. Haiby and Stewart were also the team’s leading scorers on the night with Haiby scoring 22 points and Stewart adding 12. Both players were also 3-of-5 in 3-point shooting. Freshman guard Ruby Porter was right behind Stewart in scoring with 11 points.

“Ruby [Porter] played great tonight,” Williams said. “She’s gaining confidence. She carried us in the first half and knocked down some shots. She had some unfortunate missed shots but she stayed confident and made up for it on defense.”

The first matchup between these two teams back in early December was a back-and-forth game which ended 78-72 in favor of Nebraska. Tonight, the back-and-forth action was there, but at a slower pace. 

Illinois was more successful from the field on the night, as it finished the game 23-of-62. The Huskers had their second-lowest field goal percentage of the season with 29.6%, but made up for it by going 9-of-28 from the 3-point line and 16-of-22 at the free throw line. Nebraska went 2-of-8 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the first quarter, which helped it hold a 14-13 lead at the end of the period.

After Porter landed a 3-point shot to give the Huskers a 22-17 lead with 5:53 remaining in the second quarter, the Illini went on a 10-2 run to close the first half and take a 27-24 lead. Illini freshman guard Aaliyah Nye contributed seven of the team’s 14 points in the quarter. Nye finished the night with a team-high 15 points for the Illini.

Coming out of the half, Porter wasted no time to tie the game up, 27-27, as she landed her third 3-point shot of the night 40 seconds into the third. Nebraska then took a 34-30 lead, which was followed by a 10-4 run in the back half of the third by Illinois to make it 40-38. 

Enter Haiby and Stewart, who headed into the final 10 minutes with 16 combined points. Haiby led the charge for the Huskers, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, seven of which came from the free throw line. Stewart contributed with two baskets coming from beyond the arc. 

“I’m proud of Annika’s [Stewart] fight and effort,” Williams said. “She started off our season showing what she can do, but then she fell into a period where she wasn’t so hot. Yet, she stayed with it, continues to work and remains diligent.” 

After Nebraska took back the lead with under seven minutes left, Illinois continued to fight up into the final 60 seconds. With the Huskers up 54-50, Nye landed a crucial 3-point shot for the Illini to make it a 54-53 game. After a missed 3-point attempt by Nebraska, Illinois rebounded the ball and called a timeout with 15 seconds remaining. 

With the game on the line, junior guard Mi'cole Cayton stole the ball on the ensuing inbound which led to a free throw to put the Huskers up 55-53 with 10 seconds left. The California transfer wasn’t the only Nebraska player to come up big defensively, as Haiby also stole the ball on the next Illinois possession. This led to two free throws for Haiby, and she made both to put the game out of reach. 

“Illinois came well-prepared,” Williams said. “They made it hard for us to execute. Sam [Haiby] had to work for every single point she had tonight. So to fight and come out with a win tonight just makes me proud of the team.”

With this win, Nebraska is now 8-5 on the season and 6-4 in conference play. The next game is at home against conference opponent Wisconsin on Jan. 28. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.