Hannah Whitish remembers last season, when opponents scored, and scored, and scored on the Nebraska women’s basketball team.

Based on average, no Big Ten Conference team got scored on more than the Huskers last season, with Nebraska allowing 76.3 points per game.

That makes what is happening this season for the Huskers feel so much better. The Huskers did it again on defense on Thursday. Nebraska held Illinois to just one point in the entire second quarter, 10 points in the first half and under 50 points for the game.

And the Huskers’ offense gradually caught up to how well the defense was doing, giving Nebraska a comfortable 62-47 win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Whitish, a sophomore guard, remembers those bad games the Huskers had on defense last season, but they fade away a little more when you hear people talking about how Illinois only scored one point in the second quarter.

“For us to come in and do this, we’re pretty proud of that,” Whitish said.

The Huskers (17-6) have a five-game winning streak, and have won eight of their past nine games. And with an 8-2 conference record, Nebraska is off to its best start to a conference season since joining the Big Ten in 2011-12. The Huskers moved up one spot on Thursday to second place in the Big Ten standings.

Illinois has lost 11 straight games.

The Huskers’ good defense took some of the sting off a below-average game on offense. In the first half Nebraska went about seven minutes without scoring. The Huskers finished shooting 40.4 percent from the field (23-of-57), and 53.3 percent on free throws (8-of-15).

“Not our best offensive night, but our defense definitely stepped up and won us that game,” Whitish said.

Nebraska used its bench more than normal, and had 10 players score. Nicea Eliely led the Huskers with 11 points, making 5 of 6 attempts. Taylor Kissinger had nine points. Maddie Simon, Hannah Whitish and Kate Cain had eight apiece. Darrien Washington scored six points, one off her career high. Washington also blocked a shot that led to a basket for the Huskers.

Cierra Rice led Illinois with 13 points.

Kissinger made a three-pointer at the second-quarter buzzer to put the Huskers up 26-10 at halftime. The 10 points tied a school-record for the fewest points allowed in a half. The Huskers had never held a team to one point in a quarter.

Illinois did not score a field goal in the second quarter, going 0-for-12 from the field. It’s actually the second time this season a Husker opponent hasn’t made a field goal in a quarter, the other time coming in a win at Kansas.

“Defense is what we pride ourselves on, and knowing we held a team to 10 points in the whole first half is really rewarding,” said Eliely, who had one of the Huskers’ six steals.

Illinois outscored the Huskers 37-36 in the second half, when Nebraska continued to play a lot of players.

“It wasn’t probably the prettiest game that we’ve played, and you’ve got to credit Illinois’ defense for that,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. “They did a good job of kind of forcing us into some quick shots, ugly shots, and to play a little bit ugly. But I thought for our girls to still find ways to win and to grind it out, that’s a good lesson for us to learn at this time of the year as well.”

Now comes a game that has kept gaining in appeal over the last few weeks as Nebraska kept racking up wins, and showing it could hang with, and beat good teams. The Huskers will play 11th-ranked Maryland on Sunday at 2 p.m.

And after Michigan lost to Purdue on Thursday in overtime, Maryland and Nebraska are now No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten standings, and they'll be playing for first place on Sunday.

The thought of that sounds kind of crazy, but also really good, to Williams.

“It’s just awesome the opportunity that’s in front of us on Sunday, and we’re really excited to be able to share that with Husker Nation,” she said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.


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