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Huskers Hunt for Road Win Against Fighting Illini

Huskers Hunt for Road Win Against Fighting Illini
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications
The Nebraska women’s basketball team returns to Big Ten road action this week when the Huskers take on Illinois in Champaign on Thursday night.
• Tip off between the Huskers (7-9, 2-3 Big Ten) and the Fighting Illini (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten) is set for 7 p.m. (CT) at the State Farm Center. Live radio coverage (beginning at 6:45 p.m.) can be heard in Lincoln on B107.3 FM and in Omaha on CD 105.9 FM and across the state on Husker Sports Network stations. Free live audio can also be found at Huskers.com and the Huskers App.
• A live video stream will be available to BTN Plus subscribers.
• The Huskers will try to snap a three-game losing streak that has come against three of the Big Ten’s best and most experienced teams in Rutgers (5-0), No. 9 Maryland (4-0) and No. 19 Iowa (2-2).
• Rutgers moved into the top 25 for the first time this season at No. 20, following a 62-56 win over Nebraska.
• Nebraska has played six teams that have been ranked in the top 25 this season (Drake, Miami, Louisville, Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers), including four schools ranked at game time (at No. 24 Miami, at No. 5 Louisville, at No. 19 Iowa and vs. No. 9 Maryland). The Big Ten has six teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 (No. 9 Maryland, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 20 Rutgers, No. 22 Iowa, No. 23 Minnesota and No. 25 Indiana).
• Five of Nebraska’s losses this season have been by two possessions or less, with three of those coming against teams that have been ranked in the top 25 this season. Nebraska’s three double-digit losses have all been to top 25 teams at game time.
• Nebraska is the only team in the Big Ten with two freshmen as its top two scorers, and the Huskers are the only team in the conference with two non-starters leading the team in scoring.
• Leigha Brown, a 6-1 freshman from Auburn, Ind., leads Nebraska with 10.4 points per game including 14.4 points in Big Ten play. Fellow freshman Sam Haiby, a 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minn., has added 10.2 points per game off the bench.
• Nebraska’s active roster is one of the most collectively inexperienced in the Big Ten, entering the Illinois game with just 9,822 cumulative collegiate minutes. By comparison, the Fighting Illini active roster features 15,341 collegiate minutes including 13,443 played at Illinois and an additional 1,898 minutes from graduate transfer Sarah Shewan at Quinnipiac. To put that in perspective, it is like Illinois has 138 additional 40-minute games of experience collectively by their active players.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-9, 2-3 Big Ten)
24 – Maddie Simon – 6-2 – Sr. – F – 8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg
31 – Kate Cain – 6-5 – So. – C – 7.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg
3 – Hannah Whitish – 5-9 – Jr. – G – 8.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 – Nicea Eliely – 6-1 – Jr. – G – 8.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg
33 – Taylor Kissinger – 6-1 – So. – G – 9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg
Off the Bench
32 – Leigha Brown – 6-1 – Fr. – F – 10.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg
4 – Sam Haiby – 5-9 – Fr. – G – 10.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg
13 – Ashtyn Veerbeek – 6-2 – Fr. – F – 7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg
44 – Kayla Mershon – 6-3 – Fr. – F – 3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg
14 – Grace Mitchell – 6-2 – Jr. – F – 1.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg
11(out) – Kristian Hudson – 5-5 – Sr. – G – 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998)
Third Season at Nebraska (35-42); 12th Season Overall (228-151)
Illinois Fighting Illini (9-7, 1-4 Big Ten)
35 – Alex Wittinger – 6-1 – Sr. – F – 15.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg
50 – Ali Andrews – 6-2 – Jr. – F – 7.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg
0 – J-Naya Ephraim – 5-9 – Fr. – G – 4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
1 – Brandi Beasley – 5-7 – Jr. – G – 10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg
5 – Cierra Rice – 5-9 – Jr. – G – 7.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Off the Bench
3 – Arieal Scott – 5-9 – Fr. – G – 8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg
30 – Courtney Joens – 5-10 – Jr. – G – 6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
31 – Sarah Shewan – 6-2 – Sr. – G – 5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
23 – Jaelyne Kirkpatrick – 5-7 – Sr. – G – 4.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg
4 – Mackenzie Blazek – 6-3 – Fr. – F – 3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
2 – Lyric Robins – 5-11 – So. – F – 0.7 ppg, 0.4 rpg
Head Coach: Nancy Fahey (Wisconsin, 1981)
Second Season at Illinois (18-29); 33rd Season Overall (755-162)
Scouting The Illinois Fighting Illini
• Illinois returns to the State Farm Center with a 9-7 overall record that includes a 1-4 Big Ten mark following a 62-48 loss at Penn State on Saturday in State College.
• The Fighting Illini are 7-3 at home this season but they have dropped three straight games on their home court, including a 71-60 loss to Rutgers on Jan. 9. Illinois opened conference play with an 85-83 overtime loss at home to Indiana. The Illini closed non-conference play with a 67-45 home loss to Missouri.
• Illinois snapped a 29-game Big Ten losing streak with a 66-62 win over then No. 12 Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Jan. 6. It marked Coach Nancy Fahey’s first Big Ten win in her second season at Illinois. Last season, Fahey’s Illini went 9-22 overall, including 0-16 in Big Ten play before losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
• A member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Fahey led Washington University in St. Louis to five NCAA Division III national championships in her 31 seasons as head coach of the Bears.
• Former Nebraska assistant LaKale Malone is the associate head coach for the Illini.
• Illinois is led by one of the Big Ten’s best forwards in Alex Wittinger. The 6-1 senior from Delano, Minn., is averaging 15.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Wittinger, who produced a triple-double last season, owns 30 career double-doubles.
• Wittinger enters the Nebraska game with 1,414 points, 849 rebounds, 242 blocks and 99 career steals. She had 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting while adding four steals in Saturday’s loss at Penn State.
• While Wittinger went 9-for-10 from the field at Penn State, the rest of the Illini went 9-for-45, including 4-for-21 from three-point range.
• While Wittinger is the lone senior in the Illini’s regular starting lineup, juniors Brandi Beasley and Cierra Rice give Illinois an experienced starting trio. Wittinger has made 94 starts in her career.
• Beasley is the only other Illinois player averaging double figures, producing 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and team bests of 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The 5-9 point guard has started 76 games over the past three seasons, including all 16 alongside Wittinger and Rice this season.
• Rice, a 5-9 redshirt junior guard, has managed 7.9 points and 3.7 rebounds this season. She has made 44 starts in her collegiate career.
• A third junior, 6-2 forward Ali Andrews, has made 13 starts this season and 43 in her career. She is averaging 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting an outstanding 44.9 percent (22-49) from three-point range.
• Fellow junior Courtney Joens has added nine starts this year while managing 6.8 points and 3.3 boards. Joens is also a solid long-range shooter, knocking down 35.4 percent (17-48) of her threes.
• Freshmen J-Naya Ephraim (4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Arieal Scott (8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and Mackenzie Blazek (3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) also have earned starts and significant playing time this year. Ephraim and Blazek have each made a trio of Big Ten starts.
• Seniors Sarah Shewan (5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Jaelyne Kirkpatrick (4.0 ppg, 2.0 apg) have tried to provide additional leadership. Shewan has played in all 16 games, but Kirkpatrick has missed 10 contests after suffering an injury in the Illini’s second game of the season against Valparaiso. Kirkpatrick started Illinois’ first two Big Ten games, but did not play against Minnesota, Rutgers or Penn State. • For the season, Illinois is averaging 71.1 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field, including 30.8 percent from three-point range. The Illini have hit 67 percent of their free throws and own a plus-1.2 team rebound margin. They carry a minus-0.6 turnover margin.
• In five Big Ten games, Illinois is minus-8.2 rebounds per game on the boards and minus-1.0 in turnover margin. The Illini are shooting just 37.8 percent from the field and averaging just 60.4 points in league play.
Nebraska vs. Illinois Series History
• Nebraska owns a 12-5 edge in the all-time series with Illinois, including a 62-47 win in Lincoln in the last meeting between the schools on Feb. 1, 2018. Nicea Eliely led the Huskers with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, while Taylor Kissinger added nine points off the bench. Maddie Simon, Kate Cain and Hannah Whitish all contributed eight points.
• The win completed a season sweep for the Huskers after running to an 80-72 win over the Illini in Champaign on Jan. 10, 2018. Whitish scored 20 points and knocked down a career-high six threes to lead four Huskers in double figures, including Maddie Simon (11), Kate Cain (10) and Janay Morton (10).
• Illinois swept the season series in 2016-17, including a 79-59 win at State Farm Center on Jan. 15, 2017. The Illini also eliminated Nebraska from the 2017 Big Ten Tournament with a 79-70 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 1.
• Overall, Nebraska is 5-2 against Illinois in Champaign, 1-2 on neutral courts and 6-1 against the Illini in Lincoln. Nebraska has won four straight games against Illinois in Lincoln.
• Nebraska’s series with Illinois dates back to an 89-86 Husker win over the Illini at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln on March 3, 1982.
Husker Nuggets
• The Husker bench has outscored opponents in each of NU’s 16 games this year, including double-digit advantages in 13 games.
• Overall, Nebraska’s bench has outscored opposition benches 519-236 (32.4-14.8 ppg) for a plus-17.6 margin.
• Nebraska is the only team in the Big Ten with two players off the bench (Leigha Brown, 10.4 ppg; Sam Haiby, 10.2 ppg) as its top two scorers.
• Nebraska is also the only team in the Big Ten with two freshmen as the team’s top two scorers.
• Nebraska’s bench outscored the opposition 149-53 over the final four non-conference games, including a season-high 45 points at Arkansas. NU’s bench posted a season-best scoring differential (+37) in its last non-conference home game by outscoring Denver’s bench, 40-3.
• Nebraska’s bench has scored 40 or more points four times, including 45 at Arkansas, 42 points against San Jose State, 41 points against Drake and 40 against Denver.
• In Nebraska’s Big Ten-opening win over Michigan (Dec. 28), the Husker bench outscored the Wolverine bench 28-10, including 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
• In a 78-69 win at Ohio State, the Husker bench outscored Buckeye reserves, 35-24.
• In a loss at No. 19 Iowa (Jan. 3), Nebraska’s bench outscored the Hawkeye bench, 28-11,  before outscoring No. 9 Maryland’s bench, 28-14 (Jan. 8). NU’s bench outscored the Rutgers bench, 34-17 (Jan. 13). Nebraska owns a 153-76 (30.6-15.2, +15.4 ppg) edge off the bench in Big Ten play.
• Freshman Sam Haiby led Nebraska with 13 points in a season-opening loss to Drake (Nov. 7). Haiby is the first Husker freshman to lead NU in scoring in an opener since Kelsey Griffin’s 18 in a loss to South Dakota State (Nov. 19, 2005).
• At least one Nebraska freshman has led the Huskers in scoring in 10 of 16 games this season (Haiby-5; Brown-5; Veerbeek-1).
Nebraska Streaks
• Sophomore Kate Cain owns the longest streak of consecutive starts by a Husker with 47.
• Junior Nicea Eliely owns Nebraska’s second-longest streak of starts with 42, while senior Maddie Simon has started 40 consecutive games.
• Nebraska’s bench has outscored the opponent reserves in 16 consecutive games this season.
• Nebraska has featured the same starting lineup – Maddie Simon/Kate Cain/Hannah Whitish/Nicea Eliely/Taylor Kissinger for 14 consecutive games.
• Kate Cain has at least two rebounds in every game of her Nebraska career (48), and she has blocked at least one shot in 45 of 48 games (no blocks in 2018 NCAA Tournament vs. Arizona State, no blocks at Creighton, Dec. 2, 2018; no blocks vs. Rutgers, Jan. 13, 2019).
• Junior Grace Mitchell had appeared in 13 consecutive games off the bench, including the first 11 contests this season, before missing the Big Ten opener against Michigan (Dec. 28) with a foot injury. Mitchell, who also missed NU’s win at Ohio State (Dec. 31) returned to action at Iowa (Jan. 3).
• The Huskers have knocked down at least one three in 328 straight games dating back to a loss at UTEP on Dec. 20, 2008. Nebraska has hit at least two three-pointers in 207 consecutive games.
Nebraska Numbers to Watch
• (1) Sophomore Taylor Kissinger is one point away from 400 in her career.
• (3) Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek is three rebounds away from 100 in her career.
• (4) Junior Hannah Whitish needs four points to reach 800 in her career.
• (5) Whitish needs five assists to reach 300 in her Husker career.
• (6) Junior Nicea Eliely is six points away from 600 in her career.
• (13) Eliely is 13 rebounds from 300 career boards.
• (14) Kissinger is 14 three-pointers away from 100 in her career.
Freshmen Contributing Early for Huskers
• Nebraska has received production early and often from its 2018-19 freshman class. The four-player class, which was ranked among the top 20 recruiting classes in the nation by ESPN last season, features Leigha Brown (10.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg), Sam Haiby (1 0.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg), Ashtyn Veerbeek (7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Kayla Mershon (3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg).
• Leigha Brown, who earned Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week honors (Jan. 7), leads Nebraska in scoring with 10.4 points per game, including a team-best 14.4 points per Big Ten game. She erupted for a career-high 20 points at No. 19 Iowa (Jan. 3). It was her second straight game leading the Huskers, after scoring a then-career-high 19 points at Ohio State (Dec. 31). She added 18 points and a career-high six rebounds in a narrow loss to nationally ranked Rutgers (Jan. 13). She also had 18 points in the win over San Jose State (Dec. 8), before adding 17 points and a career-high five assists in the win over Denver (Dec. 15).
• Brown, a 6-1 wing from Auburn, Indiana owns seven double-figure scoring efforts and has led the Big Red in scoring five times this season, including three of five Big Ten games.
• Over the last eight games, Brown is averaging 32.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals per 40 minutes (116 points, 27 rebounds, 14 assists, 8 steals, 163 minutes) while hitting 53 percent (35-66) of her shots from the field, including 48.3 percent (14-29) of her threes.
• In her first eight games, Brown averaged 16.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals per 40 minutes (54 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, 130 minutes), while hitting 34 percent (16-47) of her field goals and 21.7 percent (5-23) of her threes.
• Haiby, a 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minn., ranks second among the Huskers with 10.2 points per game off the bench. She has led the Huskers in scoring in five games, including against nationally ranked Drake (13) and Miami (14), while also scoring a career-high 20 points at Washington State and adding 17 points at Creighton. She also had 16 points to lead the Huskers at Arkansas (Dec. 18). She owns seven double-figure scoring efforts overall, including 12 points at No. 5 Louisville (Nov. 29) and 12 more in Nebraska’s Big Ten-opening win over Michigan (Dec. 28).
• Haiby also ranks second among the Huskers in assists (2.8 apg).
• Ashtyn Veerbeek ranks third among the Husker freshmen in scoring with 7.6 points per game, while leading the freshmen and ranking second on the team with 6.1 rebounds. Veerbeek produced her first career double-double with career highs of 14 points and 14 rebounds in a win over San Jose State (Dec. 8). She matched her career high with 14 points in just 14 minutes in the win over Denver (Dec. 15). She added 14 points for the third straight game at Arkansas (Dec. 18) for her fourth double-digit scoring effort of the year. She also ranks second among the Huskers with 12 blocks.
• Kayla Mershon has pitched in 3.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game for the Huskers. Her production is on the rise in Big Ten play. Last week, she scored a career-high eight points against No. 9 Maryland (Jan. 8), before adding seven points against nationally ranked Rutgers (Jan. 13). She had a career-high seven rebounds in a win over Kansas (Dec. 5). The 6-3 forward from Chanhassen, Minn., also has dished out 12 assists and has committed a team-best five turnovers through 16 games. She has a team-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 12-to-5 (2.4-to-1) while adding eight steals and four blocks.
• The freshmen have combined for 42 percent (501-of-1,194) of Nebraska’s points in just 35.9 percent of the team’s total minutes (1,166-of-3,250) on the season. They also have accounted for just 28 percent (72-of-257) of Nebraska’s turnovers.
• Nebraska’s four freshmen are combining to average 31.3 points and 14.6 rebounds per game – all off the bench, giving the Huskers one of the deepest and most productive benches in the Big Ten.
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