Scott is great, but Illini lose

Scott is great, but Illini lose

CHAMPAIGN — Arieal Scott reset her body quickly, spinning around 180 degrees before releasing a high-arching three-pointer that dropped through the net in the late stages of the third quarter.

The Illinois freshman — who admitted Wednesday there are parts of her game that still show the effects of 22 months away from the court — took a positive step Thursday night, supplying a career-high 23 points off the bench.

But Scott's performance wasn't enough to snap the Illini women's basketball team's losing streak, as Illinois dropped its third straight game, suffering a 77-67 setback to Nebraska in front of 1,349 spectators at State Farm Center.

Scott is "a very dangerous player because she's crafty with finding ways to create some space for herself, and you look at it and you think, 'How in the world is she still getting 11 looks from behind the arc when everybody knows that's what she is very, very good at,'" Cornhuskers coach Amy Williams said. "And yet, she got 11 looks from behind the arc again (Thursday) even though we knew that was something we needed to take away from her.

"She did a fantastic job of finding ways off the dribble, and back-door cuts and and-ones and shots at the basket. Getting herself to the free-throw line nine times was a really big factor."

On the eve of Illinois' matchup against the Cornhuskers, Scott said she's been forced to "play catch-up." Aside from a long hiatus between high school and college, the former Schlarman and Urbana product's progress was slowed even further by an ankle injury that kept her out for three straight games in late December.

A daily regimen of strength and conditioning work with Illinois team specialist Kilee Taflinger and putting up 500 shots in the gym after practice has benefitted Scott, whose 12 first-half points allowed the Illini (9-8, 1-5 Big Ten) to recover from yet-another slow start in a Big Ten game.

"My shots were falling," Scott said. "My teammates did a good job of getting me open and getting me the ball. It was a collective effort to get us going."

Nebraska (8-9, 3-3) sprinted to a 15-2 advantage in the opening five-plus minutes, and led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter before the Illini made their run.

Cierra Rice's put-back layup off a missed hook shot from Alex Wittinger beat the first-quarter buzzer, and the redshirt junior, who netted 11 points, again brought Illinois closer late in the first half.

Rice's jumper pulled the Illini to within 36-29 at the break.

"Defensively, we adjusted and made sure we were contesting their three-point shooters," Rice said. "Doing that, and rebounding, which was huge for us too, (and) keeping them off the offensive boards. Things like that is what really helped us slowly get back and start chipping away at the lead."

After Nebraska hit five three-pointers in the first half on 11 attempts, Illinois limited the Cornhuskers to 2 of 11 from beyond the arc in the second half.

The Illini climbed as close as five points in the third quarter on a Sarah Shewan three-pointer that trimmed Nebraska's lead to 42-37, and trailed by seven points, 66-59, with 2:35 left in regulation after Scott drained a pair of free throws.

Nebraska, however, did enough to put away Illinois for good.

It was Ashtyn Veerbeek's three-pointer and ensuing fist pump that delivered the dagger to the Illini with 1:33 left in the final quarter.

Veerbeek scored a team-high 19 points, accounting for nearly half of the Cornhuskers' 40 bench points compared to 39 points from the Illini's reserves.

The Illini will need to put aside Thursday's loss quickly with No. 22 Iowa (13-4, 4-2) visiting for 2 p.m. tip on Sunday at State Farm Center.

"Another disappointing game for us," Illinois coach Nancy Fahey said. "We spotted them some early shots. ... The third quarter we sent them to the line too much, and then we had four consecutive turnovers when we got close (in the fourth quarter). It's those moments we have to flip over and not hurt ourselves."