Champaign – Ashtyn Veerbeek erupted for a career-high 19 points to lead four Huskers in double figures as Nebraska powered its way to a 77-67 Big Ten women’s basketball road win at Illinois on Thursday night at the State Farm Center.
With the victory, Nebraska improved to 3-3 in the Big Ten and 7-9 overall, while Illinois slipped to 1-5 in the conference and 9-8 overall.
Veerbeek, whose previous career high was 14 points, matched her career best through three quarters and pumped in five straight points including Nebraska’s biggest shot of the night with a three-pointer with 1:39 left to push Nebraska’s lead to 69-59. The 6-2 forward from Sioux Center, Iowa, added eight rebounds and a block to propel the Huskers to their second Big Ten road win of the year.
Hannah Whitish, who finished with 12 points and seven assists without a turnover, helped the Huskers seal the win with four free throws in the final 1:30, while Leigha Jones and Taylor Kissinger each pitched in 10 points. Kate Cain added strong contributions with eight points and seven rebounds, while Sam Haiby added seven points, two assists and three steals off the bench.
Kayla Mershon, a freshman from Chanhassen, Minn., helped the Huskers get a win in her first career start by knocking down a first-half three and sealing the victory with Nebraska’s final two points of the night at the line.
The Huskers, who led by as many as 14 points in both the first and fourth quarters, saw the Illini cut the margin to seven points with 2:35 left in the game, before Veerbeek buried a three to change the complexion of the game in the final two minutes.
It was Veerbeek’s lone three of the contest and Nebraska’s seventh of the game. The Huskers hit 31.8 percent of their threes (7-22), while Nebraska hit 47.2 percent (25-53) of its shots overall, while knocking down 20-of-28 (.714) of its free throws. NU forced 17 turnovers by Illinois and turned those into 15 points. Nebraska committed just 12 turnovers in the contest.
Illinois freshman Aerial Scott scored a career-high 23 points, including 4-of-9 threes, to keep the Illini within striking distance throughout the game after falling behind 19-5 midway through the first quarter. Alex Wittinger added a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Cierra Rice pitched in 11 points off the bench.
For the game, Illinois hit 39.1 percent (25-64) of its shots, including 29.2 percent (7-24) from three-point range. The Illini knocked down just 10-of-17 free throws, but out-rebounded the Huskers 40-32 on the night. However, Illinois was only able to convert 15 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance points, while the Huskers got nine points of their five offensive boards on the night.
Nebraska jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead and built its biggest lead at 19-5 after Whitish’s second three-pointer with 3:25 left in the quarter. But the Illini heated up and cut the margin to 25-17 at the end of the quarter, despite six straight points from Brown to end the period for the Big Red.
The Huskers pushed the margin back to 12 points at 32-20 after a Mershon three with 5:57 left, but Illinois closed out the quarter strong to cut the deficit to 36-29 at the half.
Nebraska hit 48.3 percent (14-29) of its first-half shots, including 5-of-14 threes (.357), after shooting 62.5 percent (10-16) in the first quarter, including 66.7 percent (4-6) from long range. The Huskers committed just four turnovers in the half, while forcing five by the Illini that Nebraska turned into seven points. Brown and Veerbeek led the Big Red with eight first-half points apiece, while Kissinger added seven and Whitish six.
The Fighting Illini were held to 35.3 percent (12-34) shooting, including 3-of-13 threes (.231). Illinois also went just 2-for-6 at the free throw line. Scott led Illinois with 12 points off the bench in the half, including a pair of threes. The Illini did out-rebound Nebraska, 21-18, in the half.
Huskers return to Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln on Sunday to square off with No. 23 Minnesota. Tip-off between the Big Red and Golden Gophers is set for 5 p.m., and tickets are available now at Huskers.com.