In basketball, it’s never as easy as simply returning a player who has been injured and out of the rotation for an extended period of time, picking up where you left off, and running with it. Rotations develop, roles change depending on how big the loss was, and the team just organically grows as it moves through a season.
Sophomore forward Issie Bourne came back from a four-game absence this past week (ankle) and in her first game back, she came off the bench for the first time this season. She returned to the starting lineup against Rutgers a few days later, but only saw 25 minutes.
Bourne was the second-leading scorer for Nebraska before going down with an injury in early January, and she was one of the most-often-played pieces of coach Amy Williams rotation. Missing a month of time forced Nebraska to adjust.
“When we’re playing Issie Bourne the majority of her minutes at the wing position, then we kind of start to get into a little bit of a flow of knowing what kinds of things to expect from our team both offensively and defensively with her there,” Williams said during a radio appearance Tuesday night.
Bourne began the season as the starting four, then when Trinity Brady was lost to injury, Bourne slid down to her position on the wing and forward Bella Cravens filled Bourne’s vacated frontcourt spot.
Nebraska played with the three-big lineup for eight games straight.
“And then when (Bourne) was gone, then we had to make an adjustment—and there’s an adjustment period—and then you figure out what we need to run offensively, what we need to commit to defensively to have success, and then as soon as you start getting used to that, things shift again,” Williams said. “So there’s a lot of adjusting that goes on.”
In her first two games back, Bourne looked understandably rusty. The offense wasn’t coming as naturally to her, and she looked to be pressing the issue at times. In 45 combined minutes across the two road games (Penn State and Rutgers), she shot a combined 5-for-20 from the floor and 2-for-6 from the free throw line.
Pre-injury, Bourne looked comfortable. As a four—where she played exclusively as a freshman—she looked confident from the season’s opening tip while operating from the block or the nail. On the wing, she was starting to figure out how to be effective.
At 14 points a game, she was a key fixture in the Husker offense.
It’s also worth pointing out, too, that Bourne hadn’t yet played with reserve guard Mi’Cole Cayton before her injury. They’d obviously practiced together, but never in a game. Cayton made her debut three games into Bourne’s absence.
Cravens probably got used to operated with a little more space on the floor. Lead guard Sam Haiby had a slightly more on her plate from a scoring standpoint. Center Kate Cain needed to show more aggression. The young guards needed to be unafraid to let shots fly.
With Bourne back, things change.
As Nebraska brings back Brady—whenever that might be, she remains without a definite timetable—things will shift again.
The nature of the game.
Make no mistake, though; Williams is very happy to have her Aussie forward back in the lineup. Now it’s just about Bourne recapturing the form she had before that Jan. 10 game against the Spartans.
“I think, really, it’s gonna take a little time for her to be 100% and be able to have the lift and timing and everything she had before the missed three weeks,” Williams said.
>> One of the oft-asked questions with this Husker team right now is when will freshman wing Kendall Coley start to see the court in a real role?
She played two minutes to debut in an 84-68 win over Wisconsin, then did not play against Penn State in a close road loss and played the final minute in a 78-62 loss to Rutgers.
A top-50 recruit in the 2021 class, Coley decided to early enroll at Nebraska after high school sports in her home state of Minnesota were delayed and restricted because of COVID-19. With the NCAA’s pause on eligibility, she was essentially able to join mid-year and get a free season with Nebraska.
Williams wants to get her up to speed first before throwing her to the fire.
“Naturally, her first few weeks here have kind of been, ‘OK wait a minute, what do I do on that play again?’” Williams said. “And then she’s in freeze mode and thinking so much about trying to be in the right place at the right time for her team that she hasn’t been really locked in or focused on just being able to be Kendall and use her strengths to her advantage.”
Nebraska has about 60 offensive sets in, plus Coley has to know what she’s doing within the framework of the Huskers’ defense. It’s a process. And Williams is being patient with it.
“I think she’s done a fabulous job in her first two weeks of picking up as much as you’d expect a player to pick up,” Williams said. “As she gets more comfortable in practice with what she’s supposed to do when we call this play or this defense or whatever, we’re starting to see her shine through and she can just be herself and be thinking about scoring opportunities.
“Every day she’s more and more ready. Every day she’s more and more ready to be able to step out and be able to really help us. Our ultimate goal is to have her down the stretch here when we really need her the most.”
>> After back-to-back games against Illinois and Wisconsin during which starting point guard Ashley Scoggin shot a combined 0-for-9 from the field, she held a mini late-night shootaround.
Been a struggle lately shooting the ball for #Huskers G Ashley Scoggin.
So she’s staying late—even after a 16-point win—to get up shots. pic.twitter.com/KvuQyCJevl
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) January 29, 2021
In the two games since, Scoggin has scored 11 and 10 points and made five of her 11 3-point attempts.
“Ashley works way too hard at it to ever stay in a shooting slump for too long,” Williams said of the former junior college guard.
She told me before the season she wanted to hit upwards of 40% of her 3-point looks, a clip she felt she was more than capable of reaching. She’s currently at 35.2%, so expect that work to continue.
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.