Photo Credit: Eric Francis

After Eight-Day Layoff, Undefeated Huskers Set To Take On High-Scoring Drake Bulldogs

December 18, 2021

If the Nebraska women’s basketball team wants to stay unbeaten and improve to 11-0 on the season, it’ll need to take care of business against a Missouri Valley Conference foe that has shown it can score as well as the Huskers.

The Drake Bulldogs (7-2) come to Lincoln for a noon tip on Sunday against Nebraska, which hasn’t played since last Saturday’s win over Indiana State. Husker head coach Amy Williams is well aware of Drake’s offense, which ranks 10th in the nation at 83.2 points per game. The Bulldogs started the season 1-2, but have since ripped off six consecutive wins.

One of those victories came against a common opponent with the Huskers: Creighton. Drake beat the Bluejays 82-79 in the regular-season opener thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from freshman guard Katie Dinnebier. That shot gave Drake’s first-year head coach, Allison Pohlman, her first win as a Bulldog.

Like Drake, Nebraska beat Creighton in a tough and gritty way. Williams said she’s watched the Drake-Creighton game a couple times in an effort to see if she could find any advantages against the Bulldogs.

“I think we can take that tight ball game that they played with Creighton and use that as a motivating factor because of the respect that we have for both of those teams,” Williams said.

The 3-point shot has been good to Drake this season. The Bulldogs are shooting 36.9% (87-of-236) from behind the arc, which ranks 29th in the country. Nebraska is a little better at 38.6% (85-of-220) for 13th. Drake has nine players who have made five or more 3s this season while Nebraska has eight.

“They have very balanced scoring. Every player on their roster can shoot it from the perimeter,” Williams said. “They’re really good in transition. I think they just have great balance and I think those are some of the challenges that we’re preparing for.”

With the Bulldogs excelling at scoring in transition, that may lead Williams to changing a few details of how the Huskers want to try defending them.

“I think there are some characteristics to some game plans that we’ve had up to this point that we’re going to have to have in place for the Drake game,” Williams said. “We’ve played a few teams who were really, really good in transition. I think Drake is the best high-low team that we’ve played so far, so that’s going to change a few things. We’re going to have to practice and be good in a few areas where we haven’t had to in our first 10 ball games of the year.

“But I do feel that there are some elements of our games that we’ve played that, if we can piece together, will help prepare us for this game Sunday.”

Drake has four players who are averaging double-figure scoring, including Maggie Blair (13.0), Megan Meyer (11.6), Grace Berg (11.0) and Dinnebier (10.8). Dinnebier, who is also a 45% (15-of-33) 3-point shooter, seems to be the top playmaker for Drake as she’s averaging a team-high 4.1 assists per game and has the most steals, 18, on the team.

Nebraska has defensive options to throw at Dinnebier, including Sam Haiby and Jaz Shelley. Haiby is a strong defender and veteran of the program in her fourth year in Lincoln. She has 13 steals this season, second-most on the team. Shelley, a transfer from Oregon, was recently named in Autumn Johnson’s top five lockdown defenders of the Big Ten:

The 5-foot-9 Shelley is leading the team in steals with 16 and hauling down 6.5 rebounds per game. Williams has seen Shelley, who is known for her scoring and quick-trigger 3-point shot that goes in at a 53% (31-of-58) clip, grow as a defender since she’s been in Lincoln. Much of that has to do with confidence.

“Her approach to the game, she’s very cerebral, so she’s able to lock into defensive game plans and stay tuned in to that,” Williams said of her sharpshooter-turned-defensive-menace. “So that’s been a positive for us, and I think that’s one of the reasons why she’s been able to get deflections and do the things we need her to do.”

One of the goals that Nebraska wants to accomplish against Drake is clamping down defensively in the post. Early on in the season when the competition wasn’t up to the Huskers’ level, they were dominating, Williams said. But recently, the post defense hasn’t been as strong.

“We haven’t done as good a job of keeping the basketball out of the paint and allowing people to score points there,” Williams said, “so that’s one area that we feel like we really can amp things up a little.”

Look for Husker post players like Bella Cravens, Isabelle Bourne and Alexis Markowski to hunker down defensively and be a presence in the paint.

“It’s our ability to take pride in guarding your yard. Winning the bouts. Not getting beat off the dribble,” Williams said. “But also understanding that, if we’re doing all that work on the perimeter, and we’re just letting them flash right into the paint and catch it wherever they want to, those two things kind of go hand in hand.”

Following Drake, Nebraska will have one more non-conference game before Big Ten play starts. The Huskers will host Wyoming on Wednesday at noon.

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