Illini women’s basketball can’t finish off upset against No. 15 Nebraska

By Joey Figueroa

The Illinois women’s basketball team came in on a five-game losing streak Thursday, missing senior leader Ivory Crawford and on the road in one of the rowdiest crowds in the Big Ten. So calling Illinois’ near-upset over No. 15 Nebraska a heartbreaking loss might be an understatement. Especially when its five-star freshman and potential program-changer makes her return to the place she was recruited from.

Despite the 59-57 loss in which Illinois led for nearly the entire game, freshman center Chatrice White enjoyed a successful return to her home state.

After scoring only eight points in the first half, White exploded for 15 second-half points despite picking up five fouls. White nailed four 3-pointers in the second half alone, one of which broke a 54-54 tie with less than four minutes in the game. Head coach Matt Bollant trusted her to play with four fouls in the final stretch of the game.

“It was very motivating come back to my home state,” White said. “A lot of people wanted to know why I chose Illinois over Nebraska. I think it showed that I love Illinois and I love playing for this team and these coaches.”

The Illini held the lead until the final minute when Nebraska guard Natalie Romeo nailed a 3-pointer to give the Cornhuskers a two-point lead. The Illini had a chance to tie or win the game with five seconds remaining, but junior guard Brittany Carter missed a shot in the paint as the final buzzer sounded, and Romeo’s shot proved to be the game-winner.

This was the second time in the last three games that the Illini lost by two points or less. Bollant said he was still satisfied with his team’s effort.

“I told our team that we’re really proud of them tonight,” Bollant said. “Just because of their effort and resiliency in a tough environment. I thought we did a lot of good things and give Nebraska credit for coming back and finding a way to win.”

Illinois broke its recent trend of poor first halves and led by as much as 11 early on. The Illini couldn’t pull away, though, and the Cornhuskers narrowed the gap to just three as the first half came to a close.

Illinois’ defense played well enough to hold the Big Ten’s sixth-leading scorer Rachel Theriot to 11 points and forced 17 Nebraska turnovers. The Illini were out-rebounded 41-27, which allowed the Cornhuskers to stick around.

Now on a six-game losing streak and sporting a 2-7 conference record, Illinois remains optimistic because of hard-fought games like these.

“I think we really showed up and competed today,” White said. “We played our butts off for 40 minutes.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeyfigueroa3.