The arena floor looked different. The atmosphere felt different, with a crowd murmur track replacing the usual roar. The benches looked different. Even the team on the floor looked different, with newcomers making up five of the 10 available players on the evening. And yet, the product on the floor looked like the same Amy Williams-led Huskers we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
With six ladies into double figures scoring, and every available player seeing the floor, Nebraska used a balanced offensive attack Friday night to open its season with a 90-61 win over Oral Roberts.
“I think that’s a real positive for us,” Williams said of the scoring. “Some energy plays, some hustle plays, diving on the floor (and that) leading to some baskets, grabbing offensive rebounds leading to second-chance points. Those are things I liked.”
It was the Huskers’ returning players that led the way Friday night. Trinity Brady, a sophomore guard, led the team in scoring with 15 points, but guard Sam Haiby, center Kate Cain, and forward Issie Bourne each added 14 of their own.
“It’s hard to even put into words what our returning players have meant to this team,” Williams said. The leadership has been there. The attitude has been where Williams wanted it.
The frontcourt partnership of Cain and Bourne was particularly potent. “Issie and Kate just provided a great presence,” Williams said. “We really wanted to attack down there.” They combined for 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine blocked shots, four assists and a pair of steals. Williams has some versatility there.
Nebraska ran a horns set that brought the two of them to either elbow and ended with a Bourne jumper from just inside the arc and set off by a Cain screen. Later, Bourne operated from the elbow, Cain received a pindown screen on the weak side of the floor, and Bourne hit her on the money as she cut across the paint and floated a shot up and in for two.
Bourne flashed a dropstep over her left shoulder that later turned into an up-and-under bucket off the same move. She also pulled a face-up step-back jumper from just beyond the free throw line.
“I definitely feel just a totally different level of confidence,” Bourne said. “Especially thankful for the coaches for putting that confidence in me in practice. I’ve worked hard with Coach (Chuck) Love, Coach (Tom) Goehle just to work on that confidence and be aggressive toward the basket.”
And off the bench, freshman forward Annika Stewart added 12 points and seven boards on 5-of-7 shooting.
That frontcourt could be a real strength this season.
“I agree, definitely,” Bourne said. “And that’s the good thing about our new team. We have shooters, we have ladies who can attack, we have a great post presence, so I just think we can use that to our advantage in any game we need it.”
Nebraska should be careful to get too carried away after a near-30 point win over the Golden Eagles (0-3); the margin is in keeping with their other two losses to open the season, games in which they were outscored by 47 and 19.
Williams liked the all-in game her team played. Everyone got involved. Everyone contributed. Nine of the 10 who saw the floor scored.
But there were a handful of areas that will need monitoring moving forward.
The Husker defense locked in, holding ORU to 29% shooting for the game, but extra possessions went the Golden Eagles’ way. NU had 21 turnovers (15 of them in the first half) and gave up 17 offensive rebounds.
“I think it was a little nerve-wracking, to be honest,” Williams said of the open. The glass in particular was an area of emphasis (has been for a bit now). The turnovers were a surprise after a run of rather clean practices.
NU also missed 11 of its 28 free throws.
First-game jitters, perhaps. Oral Roberts had already played twice. It had an advantage in that it had simply seen what this 2020-21 version of its team looked like on the floor in a competitive environment. Nebraska hadn’t, and for large stretches of its offseason, it didn’t even have enough available bodies in practice to go 5-on-5.
But once the Huskers saw their families up on the video board at center court introducing them, the juice picked up and Nebraska got after it.
NU tied ORU after the first 10 minutes, but then just kept progressively building the lead. It won the second quarter 23-13, then the third 26-13, then the fourth 19-13. Nebraska shot 50% from the floor and 47% on its triples.
Interestingly enough, the only Husker to not score might have been the last one you’d have expected. Ashley Scoggin, a newcomer at guard, earned a starting role after transferring in from Salt Lake City CC. She went 0-for-7 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3, yet she played more minutes than anyone else.
“She does have that kind of calm personality, and she is very confident,” Williams said of the sophomore. “She earns that confidence because she is a gym rat.
“It’s kind of ironic that she would be 0-for-7 tonight. … We’re very confident she’ll be one of our best scorers and one of our best perimeter shooters. Tonight she was 0-for-7 but she found a way to continue to contribute for our team and be a solid and steady presence. I would be stunned if she spent very many games going 0-for-7.”
She controls things in a way Nebraska will need, getting the offense organized and into sets, calming the floor when things get a little helter-skelter.
If Brady can keep hitting 3s (she was 3-for-3 on the evening), Nebraska might have a little of everything in its offensive repertoire. Williams likes that diversity in their attack.
And, after months of everything being different, she probably liked to see a familiar game on the court.
Nebraska plays again on Sunday against Idaho State. Tip is set for 5 p.m. CT.
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.