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Love or Hate: Lots of Love as Things are Going Well for Husker Nation
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Love or Hate: Lots of Love as Things are Going Well for Husker Nation

December 14, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s Friday. Let’s get to it.

Another Nebraska Diaper Dandy

Super freshmen must be a thing for Nebraska this year. Nicklin Hames isn’t new to most, but Thursday’s national semifinal comeback against Illinois was my first in-person experience watching the Maryville, Tennessee, product.

At no point during did she look like a freshman.

She had two setting mistakes early on in the opening set, but as the match wore on, those proved just simple mistakes like the rest of her teammates had, not any kind of troubling sign the moment was too big for her. She ended the night with 46 assists, 19 digs and a career-high-tying five kills.

“She worked her way into that match and did a great job and got us some great swings when we really needed it, especially in those last three games,” coach John Cook said of his setter. “She’s fearless.”

As a first-year player in a role where you’re setting up dominant Big Ten hitters like Mikaela Foecke and Lexi Sun and Lauren Stivrins, it can probably become all too easy to cede the spotlight, especially when the lights are the brightest. You’re a freshman and you don’t want to take a play on yourself and cost your side any points.

Maybe that was what Illinois was expecting from Hames as well. Who knows, but the way Hames started Thursday’s match was incredibly impressive.

She did this three times in the opening set.

With Foecke hitting .186 in the opening set, Hames was picking up the slack. Then as Nebraska’s heavy-hitters got rolling, Hames settled back into the set-up role.

A Roby Who Gets After It

Aggressive Isaiah Roby is the best kind of Isaiah Roby.

Nebraska’s springy, 6-foot-8 stretch center is a matchup nightmare for everyone. He’s too quick for almost any five he goes up against and he’s too big if a team switches a wing onto him or tries to play him straight-up with a perimeter player. In short, Roby can get what he wants when he wants if he wants.

The last part of that is big, the “if he wants” part, because a lot of the time he’s comfortable rim-running and setting screens on offense. Don’t do that. I want more of this.

Roby sets a quick screen for Thomas Allen and in the process switches a smaller Creighton defender onto his hip. He immediately posts the guy up and with four seconds still on the shot clock doesn’t even have the ball in his hands. He’s going to have to operate quickly.

Allen gives the entry pass, Roby turns and faces up, brings the ball around to create a little bit of separation and steps back for a jumper. The whole thing took two seconds from the time he touched the ball to the time he splashed it home.

No panic. Just aggressive, confident offense.

And that play, run earlier in the shot clock, can do wonders for Nebraska’s halfcourt offense. It works with the lineup the Huskers had on the floor against the Jays — a bigger one with Roby playing the three, Isaac Copeland the four and Brady Heiman the five — because Copeland can space it with his shooting and Heiman can either screen for shooters or dive to the bucket, Roby’s got good enough vision to make that read and is a willing enough passer to find Heiman if he does cut.

Post-to-post passing is one of the harder things to do, but Roby’s instincts are sound. Here he is in transition, creating space for the trailing Heiman on his right with a hop-step to the left, drawing his man and the guy under the rim over just enough before dumping it off to Heiman for an easy two.

But it’s lethal with the starting unit Nebraska runs. A four-out set with Roby running a post-up point role would be rough for opposing defenses. Roby’s clearly skilled enough to be able to take his man off the dribble when he faces up and smart enough to be able to read the floor and find the open guy.

Given the matchup issues he creates, Nebraska finding a way to put more defensive focus on him while freeing up some perimeter shooting would go a long way toward helping a middle-of-the-pack shooting team hit better from deep. It would also serve as a way to generate more for Roby without him having to catch on the perimeter and make a play off the dribble.

Watch Your Head

Hopefully I never have to find out how hard Mikaela Foecke hits the ball, because it seems like she murders her kills.

(Sorry, trying to delete.)

T’s and P’s for Illinois’ Taylor Kuper.

All N

Nebraska is all in on Ty Robinson‍.

Which is very, very good. A 6-foot-5, 275-pound, defensive end from Gilbert, Arizona, Robinson is the No. 1 Greg’s Guy. He’s a 4-star and a US Army All-American. Greg Smith has been monitoring his recruitment for a while, and it seems like one of Nebraska’s last cards to play was sending the house to visit him this weekend, a move that worked.

On Tuesday, I scored the Huskers’ defensive line and it came in as the second-lowest position group on the team. Soon-to-be junior end Ben Stille still has the potential to become a force on the edge — no one should be ready to jump off his bandwagon yet — but outside of him, where are the true playmakers?

Robinson would be one.

He’s quick off the line, violent with his hands and seeks the ball. With his frame, you’ve got to be itching to see what Zach Duval could do in the weight room to help his game. Landing Robinson would be like a dream finish for the defensive side of this 2019 class. The whole “send the entire staff to see him” move maybe made that one step closer to becoming reality.

An Undisputed GOAT

Who’s the greatest coach in Nebraska history?

Who’s the second greatest?

You thinking of John Cook at all? You should be.

Four straight Final Fours, three finals appearances in those four years. He’s got four titles at Nebraska and he’s a match away from his fifth. He has won 88 percent of his games in Lincoln.

To get this group to where he’s gotten them is incredible. It’s a testament to the development of seniors Foecke and Kenzie Maloney. It’s a testament to the establishment of one of the best cultures you’ll find around a program that Nebraska can continue to replace coaches on Cook’s staff and all-time greats on the court like Kelly Hunter and not miss a beat. It’s a testament to Cook’s adaptability.

And there might not be a better indication of how strong that Husker locker room is under Cook than what happened midway through Thursday’s match against Illinois.

Nebraska went into the intermission down two sets to none and had just been thoroughly handled in the second set. Nebraska didn’t flinch; back and forth the two sides went up until the Huskers gained a little bit of separation at 13-9. Then a little bit more and it was 20-14. But Illinois went on a 9-2 run to move within two points of the national championship.

Nebraska got a kill from freshman Calli Schwarzenbach, then a kill from Foecke, then an absolute rocket from Foecke to give the Huskers the set win.

“When you get to this point you’ve got to win close games and big points and that’s what this team’s been doing a great job of in the last five weeks, six weeks,” Cook said.

Could probably change the “last five weeks, six weeks” to years and the statement would still hold up. That’s what Cook has built.

If Nebraska can’t bring it home Saturday against top-seeded Stanford, it will hurt like hell for a lot of folks. Which is crazy to think about considering the Huskers are a seven-seed. How many other teams would just be happy to be there. When you talk about the greatest, don’t forget about Cook.

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