Illini head to Nebraska for last road contest of season

By By: Stephen Bourbon

When the Illinois women’s basketball team takes on Nebraska on Thursday, it will be a matchup of two teams going in completely different directions.

The Illini (9-18, 2-12 Big Ten) have dropped their past eight games, while the No. 16 Cornhuskers (21-5, 11-3) have won each of their last eight games, including a 20-point shellacking of No. 8 Penn State on Tuesday.

Against the Nittany Lions, the Cornhuskers drilled 16 3-pointers on 72.7 percent shooting to come away with the 94-74 victory. Blowouts have been the norm for Nebraska, as it leads the conference this season with a positive scoring margin per game of 13.4 points.

“They’re a really good basketball team, a top-20 team,” head coach Matt Bollant said. “They’re really skilled, about as skilled as any team out there.”

Nebraska is led by senior Jordan Hooper, who is single-handedly rewriting the Cornhusker’s record book. Hooper is first all-time in school history in 3-pointers made and ranks second in both points and rebounds. This season, Hooper is averaging 20.1 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per contest, both third-best in the conference.

“She’s a really good player with an inside and out game,” senior guard Amber Moore said. “We just have to limit her touches. She’s going to score, we’re not going to shut her down, but if we limit her touches, we’ll have a better chance of winning.”

The last time these two played was Jan. 12 at State Farm Center, Nebraska controlled the game in a 75-56 victory. The Illini simply didn’t make enough shots to win the game, shooting a dismal 2-for-27 from the 3-point line and 34.9 percent overall.

“We need to get touches in the short corner and high post,” Bollant said. “And maybe not rely so much on the three.”

One key the Illini will need to improve on from its last matchup with the Cornhuskers is controlling the front court. Nebraska got 22 points and nine rebounds out of Hooper and a 19 point, 10 rebound effort from forward Emily Cady.

To stop Nebraska’s front court, the Illini will be looking for forward Nia Oden to build off of her career performance against Indiana. The junior posted a career-high 10 points and eight rebounds, and Bollant said he wouldn’t hesitate to give her more playing time.

Bollant has been searching for answers to attempt to end an eight-game losing skid, but so far nothing has been able to put the Illini over the top. All players still on the roster have started at least five games for Illinois and Bollant admitted it is frustrating to be on this type of losing streak.

“It certainly is frustrating to lose eight in a row, but they’re handling it well,” Bollant said. “They’ve come ready to practice and our staff is really trying to stay positive and focus on the right things, but certainly there is frustration when you’re not playing as well as you would hope for.” 

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.