It’s early and the Nebraska women’s basketball team won’t play its exhibition with Midland University until Nov. 1, but head coach Amy Williams has an idea of what she has with her team.
The 2021-22 version of the Huskers are going to be competitors, Williams said.
“They’re fighters and we have not had to beg or ask for them to go hard in practice, so that’s something that is really a step ahead and something that we are going to lean on,” Williams said.
Nebraska is looking for a bounce-back season after finishing 13-13 with a second-round WNIT appearance last year. Over the summer the team has adopted a ‘Compete and Connect’ motto, which encapsulates the high level of competition that’s been going on in practices and how the players are interacting outside of them.
“They’ve been able to really sharpen each other up with that competition and stay connected off the court,” Williams said.
Nebraska brings all of its contributors back except for 6-foot-5 center Kate Cain, who averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and led the team in blocks with 72. The loss of Cain, the program’s all-time leader in swats, will mean the Huskers’ defense will need to adjust, Williams said.
“We’ve been working hard to mix some things up defensively in the post,” Williams said. “Instead of just having Kate, who is always there to block a shot, we’ve been working to try to front a little bit and do a little more to mix things up in the defensive post.”
One adjustment may be on how the team defends the perimeter. The Huskers have been working on being more aggressive on the 3-point line, trying to force more turnovers with ball pressure.
Junior guard Sam Haiby returns to the Huskers. The All-Big Ten second-teamer last year averaged a team-high 16.8 points and hauled down 6.8 rebounds. The 5-9 guard shot 37% (40-of-107) from 3-point range.
Even if Haiby wasn’t scoring points last season, she was still finding ways to help the team, whether that was by handling the ball in pressure situations, initiating the offense or generating buckets for teammates—she had a team-high 115 assists. Williams is always challenging Haiby, and last season the coach told Haiby she wanted her to lead the team in rebounding. Haiby showed her competitiveness by being irked that she was just edged out of completing that challenge by two teammates, Bella Cravens and Isabelle Bourne, who averaged 7.6 and 7.5, respectively.
Williams has seen her growth as a leader this summer, but wants more. More on the other end of the court. That’s where the next challenge may be.
“The next step that we’re going to see in Sam is that commitment to really being a lockdown defender and doing that on every possession,” Williams said.
Williams also touched on the Australian players on the roster—there are three, including Bourne, Jaz Shelley and Ruby Porter.
Bourne is considered one of the Huskers’ top-returning players and averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds last season. Shelley, a transfer guard from Oregon, recently competed for Team Australia in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup and won a bronze medal. Porter averaged 4.7 points and 2.2 boards last season for the Huskers.
Each of the Australians has their own unique style of play, Williams said. Maybe the most important trait to the team the trio brings is basketball IQ.
“That’s just a treat as a head coach, because they’re young ladies that really transition easily to whatever type of system we want to run with the team,” Williams said. “They learn quickly, they pick things up quickly, they play together with their team easily and quickly, so I would say that’s the biggest thing those three Australians are bringing collectively as a whole.”
Due to Covid-19 keeping fans out of arenas and the freshman class, thirteen players on Nebraska’s roster haven’t played in front of a Husker crowd, Williams said. That includes a couple of true freshmen in Alexis Markowski from Lincoln Pius X High School and Allison Weidner of Humphrey St. Francis.
Williams said she just finished up individual meetings with each player, and noted Markowski’s was one of her favorite player meetings of all time.
“At least 15 times in that meeting she said, ‘I just want to win,’ and she means it,” Williams said. “She’s a very competitive young lady and wants to do whatever she can do to help our team win. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in a rebounding drill in practice or if it’s going to be against Maryland in Big Ten play.”
Williams said that she’s seen multiple players who are capable of playing the point guard position. Williams noted that Shelley is a natural point and Weidner has been doing good things in practice.
“She’s been really competitive and found ways to impact things in practice,” Williams said of Weider.