The freshmen keep coming up big for the Nebraska women’s basketball team.
On Thursday it was forward Ashtyn Veerbeek who scored a team-high 19 points in Nebraska’s 77-67 victory against Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.
Veerbeek is the third different freshman to lead the Huskers in scoring in a game this season, joining Sam Haiby and Leigha Brown. Freshmen have led or tied for the team lead in scoring in 11 of Nebraska’s 17 games.
Veerbeek improved on her previous season-high of 14 points while playing just 23 minutes off the bench. She was 6-of-9 from the field, including 5-of-6 on two-point field goals. She also made 6-of-9 free throws. The Sioux Center, Iowa, native also led Nebraska with eight rebounds and had one blocked shot.
Nebraska led the entire game, but in the fourth quarter the Huskers went more than three minutes without scoring and Illinois got its 14-point deficit down to 64-57.
But then Veerbeek scored two big baskets, on a layup and three-pointer, to regain a 10-point lead with 1:45 remaining in the game, ending one last chance for the Illini to come back.
Veerbeek shooting the three-pointer was the play Nebraska wanted after a timeout.
“We have a lot of confidence in her ability to do that,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams in a radio interview. “I just told (Veerbeek) to get a nice wide base and get yourself shot-ready and stick it. She was playing with a lot of confidence right there, and that was kind of the back-breaker.”
Nebraska (8-9, 3-3 Big Ten) ended its season-worst three-game losing streak, although each of those losses came against teams near the top of the league standings. Nebraska also won a road game for just the second time this season.
To start the game Nebraska raced out to a 15-2 lead that included two three-pointers from Taylor Kissinger.
The Huskers had four players in double-figure scoring, and all nine players who played scored. Hannah Whitish scored 12 points, and Brown and Kissinger added 10 points apiece.
Whitish also had seven assists without a turnover.
Center Kate Cain scored eight points for her highest total in a league game this season.
Nebraska changed its starting lineup for the first time in 14 games, with freshman forward Kayla Mershon starting in place of Maddie Simon to try and help the Huskers on defense and rebounding.
Mershon scored five points and had one steal, one assist and one rebound. Simon scored four points.
“I thought we took a step forward today of our goal of trying to find ways to get everybody to contribute,” Williams said. “I thought we got that today. We made a little change, and I asked Maddie to be a spark for us, and she came in and got a huge steal and made a play on the defensive end of the floor that led to offense. We just had contributions from everywhere down the line.”
Nebraska also wanted to be more aggressive in trying to get to the basket and get chances to shoot free throws. Nebraska outscored Illinois by 10 points on free throws, with the Huskers making 20 of 28 attempts.
Freshman guard Arieal Scott scored a career-high 23 points for Illinois (9-8, 1-5), which has already matched its win total from last season.
Nebraska’s next game is Sunday against No. 23-ranked Minnesota in Lincoln, when Nebraska will try to beat a ranked team for the first time this season.
-- Brent C. Wagner