Be like Nicea.
Nebraska, internally, keeps pumping up the senior wing because she sets the tone. She sparks the group. Nicea Eliely said before the season she wanted to make an All-Defense team in the Big Ten. Through four games she’s got two double-doubles, 31 rebounds, seven blocks and six steals. She had 13 points and 10 boards Sunday as the Huskers beat SIU Edwardsville 63-49 to move to 4-0 on the year.
It’s the first 4-0 start for Nebraska since the 2015-16 season. None of the games have featured smooth sailing throughout for a still-rather-young Nebraska side that’s trying to have the same sense of urgency on the fourth possession of the second quarter as it has on the 10th of the fourth quarter.
“I think Nicea’s the closest thing right now to playing with that sense of urgency and flying around and setting the tone,” head coach Amy Williams said. “When you have that type of effort, it gives everybody something where they can try to match her energy and intensity.”
Everyone keeps telling Williams the fourth quarter is Eliely time. Eliely says she wants every quarter to be Nebraska’s time. She walked into the postgame interview room Sunday flanked by two offensive dynamo sophomores—wing Leigha Brown (12 points) and forward Ashtyn Veerbeek (10 points)—decked out in both the Top Dog and BMGP (Board Man Gets Paid) chains.
The first goes to the Husker who led Nebraska in the hustle categories—loose balls, deflections, screen assists, steals, blocks—while the latter goes to the team’s top rebounder.
The dirty work. And Eliely had both.
Talk about an example for the younger players on the team.
Nebraska needed a little more urgency in the second quarter Sunday. A 19-14 lead after the first 10 minutes wilted when the Cougars switched from man to their 3-2 zone. Nebraska expected to see it, but the offense fell apart because of it. Twelve of NU’s 13 shots in the frame missed. Williams said she senses a little tentativeness.
“We started thinking, ‘Pass, pass, let me get it to someone else,’” she said. “We knew that against that zone we need all five people to be aggressive and thinking ‘score’ otherwise they really kind of back off and play passing lanes and it becomes much more difficult to get an inside touch.”
Nebraska got its rhythm back in the third. Veerbeek hit two triples and added a layup. Haiby put up six. SIUE missed 14 of 17 at the other end.
“We feel like we can come at you a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “You might be able to hold us down for a little while but eventually we’re going to find a crack and keep coming at you.”
That’s the roster makeup in a lot of ways. Adaptability. The big positive Williams has taken away from this 4-0 start. The Huskers are without their best shooter (Taylor Kissinger, recovering from a concussion) and still hit seven 3s. Brown gets buckets wherever she wants them whenever she wants to get her shot off. Veerbeek steps outside the arc and knocks down long jumpers. Point guard Hannah Whitish grabs nine rebounds and gets beaten out for the Top Dog chain by Eliely, who has established herself as Nebraska’s best defender.
Nebraska kept the Cougars at bay in the fourth and rode comfortably to a win.
Southern awaits Wednesday, Nov. 20. Tip for that one is set for 7 p.m. from Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’ll preface a string of three games in 11 days against Creighton, USC, and Duke. The Blue Devils and Jays made the NCAA Tournament last season. The Trojans await in Vegas.
Williams has talked about “cautious optimism” all offseason. She’s obviously excited about the start, but there’s work still to be done.
“We continue to give up too many second-chance opportunities and second-chance points, so that’s going to be something we continue to strive for,” she said. Nebraska gave up eight offensive boards and 12 second-chance points Sunday.
“We can be a little better about committing to our gameplan,” she added. That’s adapting to personnel and being more sound on defense.
Keep getting this level of play from Eliely, though, and hope it rubs off on the rest of the rotation, and Nebraska should be in good shape.
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.