CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nebraska found itself with a 54-50 lead with one minute left Monday night against Illinois.
After Guard Sam Haiby completed one of two free throws, Illinois guard Aaliyah Nye responded with her third 3-pointer of the night, cutting NU’s lead to 54-53.
After guard Ruby Porter missed a three-point shot, Illinois inbounded the ball that Husker guard MiCole Cayton, who played her first 19 minutes for NU on Monday, stole from J-Naya Ephraim with 10.7 seconds left, getting fouled in the process and completing one free throw.
Haiby added a steal of her own and sank both free throws to seal Nebraska’s 57-53 win.
“I'm just proud of her for icing the game with a play on the defensive end of the floor that was able to secure the victory for us,” coach Amy Williams said.
The junior captain finished with 22 points and five rebounds, draining 9 of 12 free throws and scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers were forced to lean hard on scoring performances from Haiby, Porter and forward Annika Stewart.
Porter tallied eight points in the first half and finished the game with a career-high 11 points, along with four rebounds. She opened both the second and third quarters with a crisp three-point shot.
Stewart, who is a freshman like Porter, got hot, sinking back-to-back three-pointers with 6:49 left in the game, boosting NU’s lead to 49-46. She ended the game with 12 points and four rebounds.
Haiby, Stewart and Porter scored 79% of the Huskers' points, including all of the three-point shots and 13 of Nebraska’s 16 free throws.
The Fighting Illini (2-8, 0-7) held NU to 29.6% shooting, and just 20% in the second quarter. But Nebraska (8-5, 6-4) also had an impressive defensive night.
“We need to be able to hang our hat on the defensive end, and to only score 57 points but to still come out with a win, I think that shows our commitment on the defensive end,” Williams said.
Illinois completed four three-point shots, compared with the 15 NU gave up in its loss to Minnesota.
Nebraska started slow, but Haiby sparked a 7-0 run with her second three-pointer of the night with six minutes left in the first quarter. Haiby’s scoring efforts petered out, and she finished with eight first-half points.
Center Kate Cain made 10 rebounds and five points while battling with fellow 6-foot-5 center Eva Rubin, who had nine points and six rebounds.
Nye caught fire toward the end of the first half, scoring seven of her 10 first-half points in roughly one minute. After sinking a three-point shot, she earned two points in transition with 3:17 left in the half.
The 5-foot-11 freshman guard drilled a three-pointer with 51 seconds left in the game to cut Nebraska’s lead to 54-53. She finished with an electric 15 points and was the only Fighting Illini to finish with a double-digit score.
“I'm not excited about having to figure out how to guard Aaliyah Nye for the next three years,” Williams said.
Nebraska was able to enforce its will, especially on the defensive side of the ball, on Illinois and come up with its second road victory of the season.
“We got some good stops when we needed to, and that was how we were able to come out of here with an ugly win,” Williams said.