LINCOLN–(NU Athletics Jan. 11)–Jaz Shelley scored a game-high 17 points, while Alexis Markowski added her 10th double-double of the season to power Nebraska to a 56-48 women’s basketball win over Illinois on Thursday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Shelley, who hit 4-of-7 three-pointers while adding five rebounds and game highs of six assists and five steals, helped the Huskers improve to 4-1 in the Big Ten for the first time since their inaugural season in the conference (2011-12) and 12-4 overall.
Markowski, who leads the Big Ten in both double-doubles and rebounding, contributed 14 points and a game-high 15 rebounds to send Illinois to 0-4 in the conference and 6-8 overall. Nebraska’s 6-3 center hit the only field goal of the fourth quarter for the Big Red with 45 seconds left in the game to extend Nebraska’s lead to 53-48.
Shelley was also huge down the stretch for the Huskers, hitting a trio of free throws around Markowski’s field goal to stretch a 49-48 NU lead to 54-48 with 32 seconds left. Maddie Krull, who finished with seven points, four rebounds and two assists, closed the scoring by sealing the win with a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left.
Until Shelley hit two free throws with 2:33 left, Nebraska had been shut out in the fourth quarter, as Illinois opened the fourth with a 9-0 run after trailing 49-39 heading to the final period.
While Nebraska’s offense struggled, its defense was spectacular down the stretch, holding Illinois to just a Makira Cook jump shot with 2:55 left. Cook, who finished with eight points and six turnovers, had the only points for the Illini in the final 5:45, as the Huskers outscored Illinois 7-0 in the final 2:54.
Nebraska led from start to finish, erupting to an 18-4 lead in the opening 7:30 of the game with a pair of three-pointers from Shelley, five points from Krull, including a three, and a three-pointer from Logan Nissley to go along with the first four points of the game inside from Markowski.
Illinois closed the first on a 9-0 run on three three-pointers with two from Genesis Bryant and one from Jada Peebles to trail 18-13 at the end of the opening quarter. Bryant finished with nine points on 3-of-10 three-point shooting for the game, while Peebles added six points on a pair of threes.
Nebraska pushed the lead back to eight points on a three-point play from Natalie Potts with just over six minutes left in the second quarter, only to be held to just a Markowski field goal in the final six minutes. The Huskers still managed to take a 30-29 lead to halftime.
The four-time Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week Potts then sparked Nebraska by scoring the first five points of the second half to quickly extend NU’s lead to 35-29. A pair of Shelley free throws pushed the margin back to double digits at 39-29, and her fourth three-pointer of the game with 44 seconds left in the third quarter gave Nebraska its biggest lead of the half at 49-37.
Brynn Shoup-Hill led Illinois with 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks in arguably her best effort of the season. She hit 4-of-7 three-pointers after entering the game just 1-for-8 from long range in Big Ten play.
She helped the Illini hit 9-of-25 threes (.360), after opening league play just 10-for-47 (.213) from long range through the first three contests. But Nebraska held Illinois to just 8-for-24 (.333) shooting from two-point range and allowed just 5-of-8 free throws to limit the Illini to a season-low 48 points.
Nebraska answered with 20-of-59 shooting (.339), including 6-of-18 threes (.333), while doubling the Illini at the free throw line on 10-of-12 shooting. Nebraska dominated the glass 45-29, including a 12-1 edge on the offensive boards. The Huskers did not allow an offensive rebound to the Illini in the second half. The Big Red also won the turnover battle, 17-16.
The Huskers return to Big Ten road action at Minnesota on Sunday. Tip-off with the Golden Gophers, who are coming off an impressive win over Michigan on Tuesday will have two extra days rest and home-court advantage for the 2 p.m. (CT) tip with the Huskers. A live video stream will be provided for subscribers of Big Ten Plus.