Kate Cain walked into the postgame interview room wearing the Huskers’ Top Dog chain. It goes to the player who, either during that day’s practice or in the game, did the little things, the hustle plays. “I got a good amount of blocks today,” the sophomore center said with a smile. A good amount? Cain flirted with a triple-double in the first game of the season for Nebraska, finishing with 10 points, eight blocks and seven boards, and helping the Huskers blow past Alabama A&M 68-46.
As a team, Nebraska blocked 12 A&M attempts. Cain’s presence in the middle, as has been the case since she stepped on campus two seasons ago, deters smaller opponents from even trying. Nebraska has an intimidating front line, maybe even more so this season.
Head coach Amy Williams opted to go big with her first starting five of the year, using Cain and sophomore Ashtyn Veerbeek, Cain’s understudy at center last year, as her two bigs. Veerbeek was a rebound away from the other award chain Williams gives out to the top rebounder.
Junior wing Taylor Kissinger got that one. She led the team with eight boards. Veerbeek finished with seven.
“Me and Kristian [Hudson] both kinda got a rebound together and I wanted so badly to rip it from her,” she said.
There were plenty to be had Wednesday afternoon, with the Bulldogs connecting on only 20 of their 79 shot attempts (25.3%). Nebraska grabbed 37 of an available 63 boards. The growth point will be in what happened to the ones Nebraska didn’t get.
“If you would have told me before the game we were going to give up 25 offensive rebounds and still even be in the ball game, I would have probably not believed you,” Williams said. But Nebraska did give up 25 offensive boards. Lots of blocked shots will do that, but the Bulldogs fought in the second half, particularly in the third quarter.
A&M head coach Margaret Richards—a Nebraska alum—was proud of that fact. Nebraska was up 46-14 midway through the third quarter, and then the turnovers started flowing from the Husker offense and the battle on the glass started slanting toward the Bulldogs. A&M got 17 of its 25 offensive boards in second half.
“I feel like we played 25 minutes of pretty good defense,” Williams said. And the final 15 minutes? “Plenty of room for improvement.”
Nebraska only gave up eight second-chance points, thouhg. Perhaps a product of Cain. Richards said the Huskers’ overall length bothered her group a great deal. You can attribute the lack of secondary offensive success to that.
Veerbeek said the team took its foot off the gas in the third. A&M had runs of 8-0 and 7-0 in the frame, but Nebraska responded in the fourth and kept the margin hovering around 20 down the stretch.
“I walk away feeling good,” Williams said. “When we got up 46-14, at that point would I have liked to have seen us keep the foot on the pedal and really find a way to slam home? Yes, I would have. But I think most of that credit goes to [the Bulldogs].”
The kind of versatility that harrassed A&M all afternoon is the same thing the Huskers will be banking on once the tougher games come around. With Cain and Veerbeek both in the starting five, Nebraska’s going to be relying on senior Grace Mitchell, defensive-minded sophomore Kayla Mershon and true freshman Isabella Bourne to bring the size for the second unit.
Cain and Veerbeek didn’t play much together last year—“It’s a little different but we definitely like it,” Cain said of the partnership, “we’ve been working really well together in practice”—but that figures to change this season.
“I’ve worked really hard to be able to expand my role and play with Kate, so getting that opportunity feels good,” Veerbeek said.
Poetic, then, that the first bucket of the season is a triple from Veerbeek.
Williams used the phrase “cautiously optimistic” again in her postgame. Turning off in the third is a piece to work on. The offensive glass is a piece to work on. But if Williams is going to get complimentary play from her two bigs the way she got it Wednesday, good things are on the horizon.
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.