Contributions All Around
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Contributions All Around, but Cain-Veerbeek Pair Working Wonders

January 12, 2020

Nebraska has outscored its opponents in 15 games by nearly 200 points. Its average margin of victory, en route to a 13-2 start, is 12.9. That number is 7.5 in four conference games. Now, the Huskers scheduled lightly in the non-conference this season, an overcorrection after going through an absolute gauntlet during the 2018-19 non-conference season, but for the most part, Nebraska is controlling just about everyone it steps on the court with.

The one loss suffered in the last month was an overtime loss to Michigan State on the road in a game where the Huskers held a 10-point lead midway through. Perhaps tired legs had something to do with that one; Husker head coach Amy Williams likes to use a deep bench and against the Spartans, she relied on center Kate Cain for 34 minutes (the sophomore’s minutes are rarely ever in the 30s).

The true bench, excluding super-sub wing Leigha Brown, who’s a starter in every way but name, was just three-deep against Michigan State.

Ten Huskers are averaging at least 10 minutes a game this season and Williams has gotten the most out of each and every one of them.

For every 40 minutes that Cain has been on the floor this season, Nebraska is outscoring opponents by 15.7 points, the best mark among the rotation players on the team. Senior wing Nicea Eliely is not too far off Cain, though, with a plus-15.4 posted per 40 minutes.

  Per-40 +/- MPG (GP)
Hannah Whitish 13.4 28.9 (15)
Sam Haiby 14.2 24.5 (15)
Nicea Eliely 15.4 27.3 (15)
Ashtyn Veerbeek 14.3 21.4 (14)
Kate Cain 15.7 25.9 (15)
Makenzie Helms 15.7 3.8 (6)
Trinity Brady -1.4 11.2 (5)
Kristian Hudson 9.1 7.2 (11)
Grace Mitchell 10.8 9.1 (13)
Leigha Brown 11.5 24.7 (15)
Taylor Kissinger 8.8 19.2 (5)
Isabelle Bourne 12.0 14.9 (15)
Kayla Mershon 5.3 12.5 (15)

Freshman guard Trinity Brady and sophomore forward Kayla Mershon are really the only two who have struggled to have a consistently positive impact on the floor. Brady missed the first 10 games of the season due to injury, however, so it would stand to reason she’s taking a bit to get adjusted. Mershon, after taking a starting spot from departing senior Maddie Simon last year on the strength of her defense, has gotten off to a rocky start on the offensive end this season and been overtaken by freshman Isabelle Bourne.

Bourne has been nothing short of encouraging off the bench to begin her Husker career, and her minutes have been trending up as Williams is starting to show more trust in her. She’s averaging 13 boards and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes this season and starting to find a groove offensively.

Nebraska’s trump card, though, is its super-sized starting five. With Cain and sophomore Ashtyn Veerbeek starting alongside one another this season (Veerbeek backed Cain up as a freshman), the Huskers have been able to deploy a kind of versatility that has given other teams fits.

Veerbeek is shooting 39% from 3 this season on 3.5 takes (again, per 40 minutes), something that has left opposing fours questioning how to handle her. Veerbeek likes to play bully-ball down in the post, so letting her get inside is letting her get to a comfort zone, but she’s also shooting it well beyond a respectable clip and defenses just aren’t able to leave her open out there anymore.

Cain is, by extension, having her best season as a Husker. Just a shade under 11 points a game, 7.7 boards, and 3.1 blocks a game, the junior from New York is posting career-highs across the board. Nebraska has perimeter players who can’t be left alone but now it’s starting five features five players who are true threats to score and score quick.

Williams has had to throw out new lineups seemingly every game—Nebraska hasn’t played a single game this year with everyone on the roster fully healthy and available—and she’s been good to keep her rotations fresh. Though she doesn’t like to ride the Cain-Veerbeek lineup too long to open games and will only come back to it one other time each half.

She’s selective with it, though Nebraska is pummeling teams when both women share the floor. Opponent shooting dips as the shot chart drastically changes.

With road games against Rutgers (13-2) and No. 17 Maryland (11-4) as the next two on the docket for the Huskers, Nebraska will find out soon just how much of an advantage it has this season in its two starting frontcourt partners.

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