Leigha Brown can get her shot just about anywhere, any time. The sophomore wing had 10 points on five shots heading into the fourth and final quarter Sunday night—five in the first quarter and then somewhat of a backseat offensively through quarters two and three. She put up seven attempts in the fourth, finishing with a game-high 16 on 12 attempts in just 23 minutes of action.
Nebraska didn’t need her scoring. It beat Southern (2-3) comfortably Wednesday night inside Pinnacle Bank Arena and a 73-39 win was all but wrapped up when Brown started firing away. But Nebraska will take it all the same.
Brown doesn’t hijack the offense to create for herself. “She can also create for others,” head coach Amy Williams said of the rising guard. “I continue to look and see three assists. She finds players.” She’ll spin her way into an elbow jumper or muscle her way to a pull-up or floater around the painted area. Brown’s strength separates her, she can get to her spots and there’s not a whole lot the defense can do to keep her away.
She’s earned the right to hoist. When she was still a commit, Williams texted her often telling her to work on the defensive side of the floor. Nebraska’s first two days of camp ahead of the 2018-19 season—the first Nebraska experience for the incredibly-promising 2018 class that included Brown, Sam Haiby and Ashtyn Veerbeek—was called “Camp Defense.” No offensive drills. Only defensive work.
“We’ve challenged her on the defensive side of the ball, we felt like she has a little bit more inside of her,” Williams said. “I thought she really took that to heart today and was locked in and focused, not just on being aggressive offensively but trying to take some pride in keeping the ball in front of her defensively.”
Brown’s activity on defense was noticeable, but one could say that about the entire team. The Jaguars aren’t the best team Nebraska will face this season (far, far from it), but defense is still about commitment. Senior point guard Hannah Whitish said afterward the first five minutes of the game and the first five minutes of the second half are the most important moments on any given night.
“I liked the defensive intensity, I liked the tone we set in the second half,” Williams said.
Nebraska outscored Southern over those crucial 10 minutes 21-5. Five points was all the Huskers gave up. The second half began with a 16-1 run from Nebraska. Southern’s first make from the field came with 51 seconds left in the frame. The Huskers had a 35-19 lead at intermission. No fooling around this time.
“I think we went out knowing it would be easy to fall into a little bit of a rut when you have a lead at halftime but this was a team that we had a great deal of respect for how quickly they can put points on the board if they start forcing turnovers,” Williams said.
Nebraska only had one turnover in the second half. It was 20-7, in favor of Big Red, after 10 minutes, but the margin didn’t grow the same in the second quarter because Nebraska gave away too many free possessions (five turnovers, two offensive boards). All that free stuff went away after the break.
“Being locked in and making everything they did difficult,” Williams said, “I thought we did a pretty good job of that to start both halves.”
Nebraska got at least eight points from six women, hit 40% from beyond the 3-point line (8-for-20) and dominated in close. Whitish reached 1,000 career points (joining a club of 32 other Huskers). Defense set the tone. Efficient offense made everything comfortable.
“I’m pretty proud of this win, I think our team put together probably one of our most complete games up to this point,” Williams said.
It’s the third win by at least 20 points in five games. The Huskers are 5-0. On Sunday, they’ll welcome Creighton to Pinnacle Bank Arena for a 2 p.m. CT tip.
“We’ve lost to them the last three years I was here,” Whitish said. “I’m tired of hearing ‘blue state’ when it comes to women’s basketball. Ready to get that win Sunday.”
Nebraska has gotten better each time it has taken the floor. After so many nail-biting finishes last season, the vast majority ending in losses, the Huskers have taken care of business. Williams’ group seems to be on a mission.
“I think ultimately we’re really going to try and approach this game like it’s important because it’s the next game on our schedule,” she said. “We’ve got bigger focuses than just one individual game in our nonconference schedule. … We would like to make it 6-0.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.