Jordan Hooper scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the No. 16 Nebraska women's basketball team to a 72-65 win over Illinois on Thursday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
With the victory, Nebraska notched its ninth consecutive win to improve to 22-5 overall and 12-3 in the Big Ten. The Huskers, who completed their second straight unbeaten February, set themselves up for their final regular-season game against No. 19 Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sunday afternoon. A victory for the Big Red would give them at least a share of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. A tournament that Purdue has won the past two seasons.
Illinois slipped to 9-19 overall and 2-13 in the Big Ten, as the Fighting Illini dropped their ninth consecutive game.
Hooper, who produced the 48th 20-point game in her 125th consecutive start as a Husker, was huge on her Senior Night, burying five three-pointers. Hooper, who increased her school-record total to 284 threes, added a pair of assists and a steal to give the Huskers a chance to play for a conference title for the third time in her NU career.
After giving Nebraska a 40-31 lead with the first two points of the second half, Hooper saw Illinois go on a 9-0 run to tie the score at 40 with just over 16 minutes left. But the 6-2 forward from Alliance, Neb., stepped up in a big way, erupting on a 10-0 run of her own with a pair of threes, two free throws and a jumper to give Nebraska a 50-40 lead with 13:42 remaining.
Six minutes later, the Huskers took their biggest lead of the night after Tear'a Laudermill's third three-pointer of the game. Laudermill, who finished with 15 points and four three-pointers, also hit three big free throws down the stretch to help seal the Husker victory.
Emily Cady added her 12th double-double of the season and 20th of her career with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for Nebraska. Rachel Theriot added eight points, six rebounds and 10 assists for the Big Red.
Nebraska struggled shooting the ball, hitting just 38.7 percent (24-62) of its shots, while going 10-for-31 from three-point range. NU won the game at the free throw line, going 14-for-17 at the stripe, while Illinois hit just 3-of-10 shots - all coming down the stretch.
The Fighting Illini had a chance to tie the game with Sarah Livingston at the line with 2:21 left, but Livingston missed two free throws after Amber Moore cut NU's edge to 65-63 with her fourth three of the night. Moore led the Illini with 19 points.
After the Livingston misses, Laudermill hit both ends of a one-and-one to extend NU's margin to 67-63. Ivory Crawford, who added 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals for Illinois, then missed two more free throws, before Hooper converted a pair for the Big Red to extend the NU margin to 69-63 with 1:24 left. Hailie Sample, who added three points and eight rebounds, hit a free throw before Theriot sealed the win with two more to make the final margin. The Huskers scored their final eight points of the game at the line.
"That game went pretty much how we thought it was going to go," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "Illinois played well and caused us some problems, but our players are tough and they managed to fight through their fatigue and tired legs to find a way to win. We were also fortunate that Illinois missed some shots at the line down the stretch."
Nebraska outrebounded Illinois 42-35 and committed just 11 turnovers against the Illini defense. However, Illinois committed only 10 turnovers, including just two in the second half. The Illini finished 26-of-60 (.433) from the field, including 10-of-25 (.400) from three-point range.
The Huskers took a 38-31 lead to the locker room at halftime thanks to 13 points and three three-pointers from Hooper. Cady added eight points and six first-half rebounds for the Big Red, while Laudermill hit a pair of threes.
Illinois led 15-11 before Brandi Jeffery entered the game and scored five straight points to give Nebraska the lead at 16-15. Moore answered for Illinois to take a 17-16 lead before back-to-back threes by Hooper and Laudermill gave the Big Red the lead for the rest of the half at 22-19 with just over eight minutes left in the half.
The Huskers took their biggest lead of the half at 38-28 after a pair of Cady free throws capped a 7-0 Huskers run, before Crawford hit a shot-clock buzzer-beating three-pointer from the corner for the Illini with 20 seconds left in the half.
Taylor Gleason, who finished with 13 points and a career-high three three-pointers, led Illinois with 10 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-3 from long range. Illinois outshot the Huskers, hitting 43.3 percent (13-30) from the field, including 41.7 percent (5-12), but did not shoot a free throw as NU committed only two first-half fouls.
The Huskers hit 41.2 percent (13-34) of their shots, including 6-of-17 threes (.353), while connecting on 4-of-5 free throws. NU outrebounded Illinois, 20-18 in the first half, and won the first-half turnover battle, 8-6.