Illinois drops close Big Ten opener at Nebraska 78-72

Jada+Peebles+and+Geovana+Lopes+get+set+on+defense+in+Illinois+game+against+Nebraska+on+Thursday.+The+Illini+fell++78-72.

Photo Courtesy of FightingIllini Athletics

Jada Peebles and Geovana Lopes get set on defense in Illinois’ game against Nebraska on Thursday. The Illini fell 78-72.

By Nithin Reddy, Staff Writer

The Illinois women’s basketball team kicked off Big Ten play with a loss to Nebraska 78-72. While the Illini kept it tight until the very end, head coach Nancy Fahey knew exactly what was responsible for the loss.

“We definitely put enough points on the board to win, really it was from the free-throw line and we put them on the line too much and that cost us,” said Fahey.

The Illini went 13-20 from the free-throw line while Nebraska finished the game 27-32.

The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair, foreshadowing the rest of the game. Illinois got off to a good shooting start as sophomore guards Jeanae Terry and J-Naya Ephraim made threes on back-to-back possessions to give the Illini an 8-4 lead. Nebraska slowly got back in the game as the Cornhuskers tied the game up to end the first frame.

Both teams shot the ball well from the floor, 47% each, and the Illini, who had been struggling to score from the perimeter, made 40% of their threes in the first quarter.

The second quarter started a bit differently as the defense stepped up. As the half came closer to an end, sophomore guard Jada Peebles looked to score, finishing the half with six of the Illini’s last 10 points. The Illini went into halftime leading a close one 40-39. Peebles commended their defense for the team’s offensive success in the first half.

“We were getting stops and then the stops went to our offense. Those defensive stops is what created our offense,” said Peebles.

The third quarter saw the Illini on the brink of blowing the game open. The Illini got an early five-point lead to start the half, but a 7-0 run by Nebraska gave the Cornhuskers a two-point lead with a little over six minutes left in the quarter. Illinois would come back with an 8-0 run to go up six points. However, Nebraska would stay in the game and eventually take a one-point lead to end the quarter.

To start the fourth quarter, the Illini would once again take an early lead after two threes by sophomore forward Solape Amusan, but Nebraska would storm back. After the Illini went up 67-63 with 3:34 left, the Cornhuskers would go on a 13-0 run led by junior guard Sam Haiby who finished with 33 points, a career-high.

A frustrated Rubin, after the game, questioned the team’s preparedness going into the game.

“We’ve got to be tougher, and that starts in practice,” said Rubin, “We know what we signed up for when we came here, we’re trying to rebuild our team, rebuild our culture, and establish a new way of doing things here.”

Fahey echoed that sentiment questioning the team’s toughness. After struggling to shoot outside in the last two games, the Illini turned it around today as they went 9-23 from beyond the arc.

Peebles led the team in scoring with 16 points, followed by Amusan and Rubin with 13 apiece. The Illini were missing their leading scorer, Terry, in the second half after she ran into a hard screen late in the first quarter.

The Illini have a week and a half off before they come back home to Champaign and face Michigan on Dec. 19.

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