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It’s one thing for a basketball player to have the speed and skill to be able to drive to the hoop and get off a shot, but then you have to be able to finish the job and get the points.

On Thursday, Nebraska women’s basketball player Sam Haiby finished the job over and over again.

The junior guard scored a career-high 33 points to lead the Huskers to a 78-72 victory against Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena, helping the Huskers get the Big Ten Conference season off to a good start instead of a deflating loss against one of the conference's worst programs.



It took a big finish for the Huskers. Illinois led 67-63 with about three minutes left in the game. Then Nebraska both regained the lead, and took control, with a 13-0 run over 2½ minutes.

Nebraska won its first conference game of the season and improved to 3-0 overall.

Haiby scored 21 points in the second half. She kept driving to the basket, and either making the shot or getting fouled. She made all seven of her layup attempts in the game. Overall she was 9-for-17 from the field. Haiby said she always has a goal to get to the free-throw line, and she did Thursday, making 14 on 16 attempts.

Haiby’s 33 points were the most by a Nebraska player in about four years.

“It feels pretty good,” Haiby said. “Obviously the win feels better. The points don’t mean anything if we don’t get the win. If was definitely good to see the ball go in the hole a little bit.”

It’s dangerous to have a player like Haiby who can get to the basket and score, Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. Haiby is explosive, and can also take contact and get to the free-throw line.

“It’s a pretty special combination, and she’s just starting to show what she’s capable of,” Williams said.

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Nebraska forward Isabelle Bourne added a career-high 21 points. Forward Bella Cravens had 16 rebounds, which helped the Huskers win the battle on the boards 47-35.

The Huskers really needed what Bourne and Cravens provided because Kate Cain was held to four points and three rebounds in 26 minutes.

Illinois led by five points with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, but then went about three minutes without scoring, allowing Nebraska to turn a 67-63 deficit into a 76-67 lead. The Illini missed eight straight field goals in that stretch.

“It starts with defense,” said Haiby of the stretch that won the game. “We kind of locked down there, and Bella had a huge game on the boards, so that definitely helped.”

Haiby scored the go-ahead points on a drive to the basket for a 69-67 lead with 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. She later extended the lead to four points with two free throws after she got the offensive rebound on her own miss.

Nebraska completed the comeback and tied the game when Cain made two free throws with 2:52 left for her first points of the game. Cain also got a big defensive rebound and made two more free throws in the final minute.

“It’s not much of a secret that Kate kind of struggled a little in this game early, but I’m just incredibly proud of her to bounce back in the last four minutes and find a way to get some key blocked shots and key rebounds and make four free throws,” Williams said. “That shows some mental toughness that we’ve been working hard with Kate to overcome.”

Jada Peebles led Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) with 16 points.

Nebraska was down to eight available players for the game after Makenzie Helms left the team this week and Trinity Brady injured her ankle in the last game. Brady is still on crutches and doesn’t know when she’ll be able to return. MiCole Cayton and Nailah Dillard were already out with injuries.

Other players stepped up to help the Huskers overcome the adversity of the week, Williams said. Freshman guard Whitney Brown scored five points, and freshman forward Annika Stewart made another three-pointer.

“I’m impressed by that, and excited for what that could mean in the future,” Williams said.

Nebraska’s next game is Monday at Creighton (1-3).

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