At some point during the 10 days between an 83-79 win over Duke in which Taylor Kissinger connected on six of her nine 3-point attempts and a 77-67 win over Oral Roberts to move to 9-1 on the season, Nebraska found out Kissinger was going to need season-ending hip surgery.
It was an issue that kept Kissinger sidelined in the preseason, as the Huskers hoped to give her some time to rest and heal. The junior wing then suffered a concussion and missed four of Nebraska’s first five games to open the season. Duke represented a return to form, or sorts, for the oft-injured Nebraska native.
“It’s tough for Taylor,” head coach Amy Williams said Saturday after the Huskers had wrapped up the win over Oral Roberts, “tough for our team, tough for the seniors who absolutely adore playing with her, and tough for her to miss out.”
Williams’ group needed once again to adjust to a lineup change. Forward Grace Mitchell was also unavailable Saturday after a shoulder issue forced her to miss the team’s last practice.
Add on top of that 10 full days without a game. Players don’t like to be off that long; good for rest, but bad for rust. And Nebraska, trailing 17-16 after 10 minutes, looked rusty.
“Trinity Brady spoke up and she said, ‘I think we have good energy but they just have more intensity,’” Williams said. “I think she was really accurate with that.”
Oral Roberts came ready to play, to attack. Nebraska looked lethargic in the first quarter. Pinnacle Bank Arena felt lethargic, too. Cold air was whipping around outside, and the energy inside seemed frozen.
Williams and her staff have noticed that mixing defenses on the fly has an energizing effect with this particular team. “It can pick up our intensity and energy,” she said. And game prep for Oral Roberts revealed to Williams that a little full-court press could harass the Golden Eagles and get them out of sorts offensively. So, with the score knotted at 25-all with a little over five minutes to play in the second quarter, Williams called a full-court press.
Nebraska then ripped off a 13-0 run. Oral Roberts didn’t get closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“We wanted to be more aggressive,” Williams said.
Leading the charge, in a number of respects, was sophomore guard Sam Haiby. The Minnesota native had her second 20-point performance of the season. She went for 20 points on 14 shots against the Golden Eagles, adding five rebounds and four steals.
“We’ve been really talking to Sam about her ability to impact the game with offensive rebounds, with her defense and trying to really lock in on that,” Williams said. “She’s just such an incredibly explosive athlete that the scoring, we feel like, is going to take care of itself. I thought today a lot of her offensive production was from defense. She had four steals. She was the recipient of a couple of [outlets]. Nicea [Eliely] would make a steal or somebody else and they’d hit Sammy leaking and probably the difference in the game was some of those steals and run-outs that we were able to get. Sammy really led the way in that area and sparked us.”
Center Kate Cain got things rolling early, with a team-leading 11 points before halftime. Haiby had seven of Nebraska’s first nine points in the third and then sophomore wing Leigha Brown had eight of Nebraska’s last 12.
Nebraska has had six different women lead the team in scoring in a game this season and hasn’t had a single person lead that category in back-to-back games yet.
“I like this team because I think there’s versatility there,” Williams said. “They’ve done a good job through some injuries and in-and-out and some players being able to play and some having to limit minutes here and there and we’ve been able to just kind of adjust to that and lean on different people at different times. There’s been times where Ashtyn Veerbeek really just set the tone for our team with her scoring ability and shooting ability. Times where Kate Cain was impossible to guard. Times where Leigha Brown is just offensively carrying the load for us. Nicea’s sparking us. I just think the versatility, the fact that we have a lot of different people that can contribute and we tend to adjust to some of the negative adversity, is what I like most about our team up to this point.”
One game remains in the nonconference. Manhattan comes to Lincoln on Dec. 22 for a noon tip. Nebraska will look to continue its best start to a season since 2014.
“We definitely knew we had the talent and the potential to do as well as we’re doing, and we kind of just have to keep feeding off that and keep pushing through because we can’t get complacent,” Cain said. “We can’t get too comfortable. We just have to keep on pushing and working to get better because conference play is a whole new monster.”
Fortunately, new hasn’t been too big an issue for the Huskers so far this season. Adversity keeps coming, new challenges keep coming, and the Huskers keep answering.
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.