The Husker women’s basketball program has a good bit of positive momentum right now. Nebraska stands at 9-5 on the season after wins in six of its last eight games. Lead guard Sam Haiby is playing at an all-conference level, combo guard Mi’Cole Cayton is finally cleared to play and has been an immediate defensive boost for the rotation, and a pair of starters are presumably nearing a return to the court.
Perhaps soon Nebraska will have a top-50 recruit to fully involve in the rotation.
“I’m hopeful that she can just get more and more comfortable,” said head coach Amy Williams of 2021 signee and early-enrollee wing Kendall Coley.
The Minnesota native was in high school at the start of the new year. But with the start of the high school hoops season in Minnesota delayed and its length shortened, players who were able to make the early jump to college have done so. Coley arrived at Nebraska in mid-January to go through quarantine protocols.
She was on the bench for Nebraska’s game against Minnesota on Jan. 19, but she wasn’t available to play. In an 84-68 win last Thursday over Wisconsin, though, she made her Husker debut.
It was modest—two minutes, one shot attempt—but the 6-foot-2 wing got out there.
“She has a lot on her plate,” said senior center Kate Cain. “So just the fact she went in and was able to execute, and that one shot she took was so close, the entire bench was up, just really excited for her.”
Coley was the No. 9 wing in the nation according to ESPN and a consensus top-50 player in the 2021 recruiting cycle. As a junior, she averaged 15.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for St. Louis Park. She was an honorable-mention All-Minnesota selection and earned All-Metro West Conference honors.
But things are very different at her new home.
“She’s had a lot of information thrown at her this past week, and not just basketball-wise,” Cain said. “Like, if you think about somebody who’s in high school and then all of the sudden they’re like, ‘Ope, no, we’re gonna go to college a month early.’ You’re gonna have to learn all these sets. You’re gonna have to start school. She just started college classes for the first time.”
As of last Thursday’s game, Williams said Coley had been involved in only three or four actual practices with the Huskers by the time she’d first step foot on the court inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Kendall has been in less than one week of practice,” Williams said. “I was counting today, I think we have something like 60 offensive sets in as a team right now, so to think or expect that a kid coming straight out of high school is going to come in and in less than one week of practice time be able to learn that type of offense and system and what her defensive responsibilities are—and every game we’re changing and mixing up what our plan is defensively.”
It’s going to take time.
Typically defense comes later for newcomers. Coley has all the tools to be a plus defender on the perimeter, but it’ll just take her live minutes to really gain comfort at that end.
“Right now her head is swirling just trying to be in the right places at the right time for her teammates,” Williams said.
The tendency is to want to just throw a newcomer to the wolves, trial by fire and all that. Nebraska has been severely undermanned for weeks was various injuries have put a number of different rotation members on the shelf. With an eight-player rotation, why not throw Coley out there and see if she can just play off her natural ability.
But Nebraska, despite the adversity faced this season, has continued to be a tough out. Williams has an interesting team needing of depth but not necessarily dying to have it.
She can afford to work Coley into what they do rather than throwing her in cold.
“I think she’s showing great growth,” Williams said. “And here shortly it will be a situation where she’s picked up the small package of things that we want her to learn and now she’s playing Kendall Coley (basketball) within our system and just being aggressive and thinking about ways that she can use her talents to score within the (framework of the system).”
Added Cain: “I think with time and repetition she’s really going to be able to start making an impact.”
Coley’s next chance to take the floor will be Thursday, when the Huskers battle Penn State (6-7, 3-6 Big Ten) on the road. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. CT.