Talking season is upon us as the college basketball season inches closer.
On Thursday, Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams and a couple of her top-returning players—junior guard Sam Haiby and sophomore Isabelle Bourne—took part in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Media Day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Nebraska is coming off a season in which it finished 13-13 overall with a 9-10 record against Big Ten opponents. The Huskers are looking for more consistency this season. Last year, the Huskers knocked off five ranked opponents but still finished with a sub.500-record in the conference.
Williams kicked off her time at the podium by touting the great basketball being played in the Big Ten this season.
“Big Ten women’s basketball is going to be maybe the best it’s ever been this year,” Williams said. “I really am expecting unprecedented results from the Big Ten Conference this year, from the league as a whole when you look at what we’ve done in the past and the number of returning players, so it’s really an exciting time to be a part of this conference.”
There’s good reason for Husker fans to be excited. There’s strong returning production coming back, including four returning starters. Nebraska also hauled in a top-25 recruiting class, which includes two of Nebraska’s top players in Alexis Markowski of Lincoln Pius X and Allison Weidner of Humphrey St. Francis. The Huskers also dipped into the transfer portal and snagged guard Jaz Shelley from Oregon.
“Probably the No. 1 reason I’m excited is this team has really embraced competition with each other and they have a strong belief, they believe in hard work and I just love coaching this team,” Williams said.
Williams said she wants Nebraska to be the hardest-working and grittiest team on the court every game. Those are the traits that she looks for when bringing in new players to the program.
“My coaching staff has been with me the entire time I’ve been at Nebraska,” Williams said, “and they have a strong understanding of what it is that works for us. I think they know that the No.1 factor for us is that grit and toughness and hard-working type of player.”
Williams, a former Husker player herself, took over the program from Coni Yori in 2016. Williams said there was a transition, which was to be expected. But what helped her along the way was trying to build on what was already established.
“The one thing we tried to embrace is the history and tradition, and the things Coni was able to do for our program, and find small ways to see if we can’t raise the bar for our program,” Williams said. “That’s the goal every year, is to find ways to raise the bar and build on what has been built before us.”
Nebraska will have at least nine regular-season games televised on the Big Ten Network or FS1 this season. In fact, 52% of the Big Ten Network’s live programming will be dedicated to women’s sports. Williams said it’s hard to put into words how important it is to see the increased media coverage.
It’s an important time for women’s sports, Williams said. The nation’s attention is on women’s basketball more than it has been, which makes it a great time to make change.
“Right now we’re at a very pivotal time in women’s basketball,” Williams said, “and I think there are a lot of people paying attention to finding ways to grow our game and I’m grateful that we have a leader in the Big Ten Conference (commissioner Kevin Warren) who understands the importance of that and is willing to put his actions behind his words, and I think we’ll see a lot of things come from his commitment there.”
More news and notes:
Nebraska is looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018, and the Huskers’ two representatives in Indianapolis, Haiby and Bourne, will be key pieces to the team.
— Nebraska WBB (@HuskersWBB) October 7, 2021
Haiby, a 5-foot-9 guard, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors while leading the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game and averaging 6.8 rebounds and a team-high 4.4 assists. The 6-2 Bourne, who was honorable mention All-Big Ten, was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.6 points and hauled down 7.5 boards.
Bourne, one of the three Australians on the team, said the Huskers need to be more consistent this season.
“I think we had games where we came out and I think we shocked ourselves and games where we just weren’t ready,” Bourne said. “So if we’re consistent throughout this season, we’ll have a good season.”
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@NCAAWBB) October 7, 2021
Williams has been vocal about wanting to challenge Haiby in different ways this offseason. One of those challenges has been to become more of a vocal leader.
“That’s definitely my goal, is to be more of a vocal leader where I can,” Haiby said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the I’ll-scream-at-you type of leader, but maybe a take-you-to-the-sideline and talk to you there. But I’m working on it.”
Like she mentioned this past Monday, Williams touched on rebounding being an emphasis and focus at Husker practices. There’s going to need to be an adjustment in that area for Nebraska, which loses the 6-5 Kate Cain, who’s also the all-time leader in blocked shots.
“There are times in practice where our scout guys are teaching us that that needs to continue to be something we focus on,” Williams said. “But we’ve looked back at all the statistics and the top teams in the league have consistently been the best rebounding teams. So we know what the ticket is to really taking a leap forward, and we’ll have to really continue to grow in that area.”
Haiby called teammate Ashley Scoggin a “shooter” who can really help make the offense tough to defend when Haiby looks to penetrate to the hoop. Scoggin, a 5-7 guard from Oregon, shot 37% (43-of-116) from 3-point range last season while averaging 8.5 points and 2.3 assists.
“She’s got really deep range, too, so that definitely helps her game,” Haiby said of Scoggin. “I think with my ability to get to the basket and having Ashley there spotting up to consistently knock down shots, that’s going to be really good for us this year.”
Freshman Kendall Coley, a 6-2 wing from Minneapolis, joined the team on Jan. 19 as an early enrollee last season and got a chance to get her feet wet in college basketball by playing in 12 games. Coming to Lincoln early allowed her to get in the weight room and work on her strength. Williams said Coley getting the experience she did helped her understand the physicality of the Big Ten and what it takes to compete in the conference.
“Now that she’s able to learn our schemes from the beginning and not be thrown into the fire, I think that’ll be a huge advantage for her,” Williams said of Coley.
Big Ten Network host Mike Hall brought up a fun fact about Haiby—she played on her high school boys baseball team. She was a pitcher that specialized in location rather than power. She threw fastball, curveball and the change. Does Haiby miss playing baseball?
“I love it, I loved every second of it,” Haiby said.