As fans were still settling into their seats inside Pinnacle Bank Arena Tuesday night to watch the Huskers’ open practice, head coach Amy Williams grabbed the mic and thanked everyone for coming out. She wanted to talk about her team and give fans a little info on what was to come.
While she talked, her team shot free throws on both ends of the court.
“I wanted you guys to get actual visual proof that we work on free throws,” she said to some laughter and applause from those on hand. “There are a couple fans who kindly remind me that's an area that needs work for the Huskers."
As a team last season, the Huskers connected on just 64 percent of their free throws. It’s something they’ve put an emphasis on this offseason. For a team that went 22-11 and found its way back to the NCAA Tournament last season, the strengths haven’t been the focus so far; the shortcomings have.
“We need a couple more weeks of practice for sure, no doubt about it,” Williams said with a laugh when asked about the team’s scrimmage against their scout team.
The Huskers won, but it was 29-21 with Nebraska giving up a little too much on the glass and only shooting 41 percent from the floor.
“There were some things highlighted,” Williams said. “We’ve been working hard all summer to try and become a better rebounding team and then we get up against our scout team sometimes and you can’t see it so much. They’re making some progress and I think we’ll just take full advantage of a couple more weeks before we do it for real.”
Rebounding was a major emphasis coming into the season. In the Huskers’ season-ending loss to Arizona State in the tournament, they were out-rebounded 49-27 overall and beaten 21-8 on the offensive glass. Three of the four freshmen Williams brought in with the 2018 class are forwards — 6-foot-1 Leigha Brown, 6-foot-2 Ashtyn Veerbeek and 6-foot-3 Kayla Mershon — and Williams is hoping they can all help in that regard.
Each of the three, along with two other newcomers, were on the court Tuesday night to offer a few glimpses into the new-look Huskers. Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson were both on hand for the evening and had a few other observations.
>> Nebraska will host Arizona State Saturday for a closed scrimmage. It was set before the two teams knew they’d play each other in the tournament and Williams said it’s a “very unique opportunity to gauge where the Huskers are at.
“We’ve been finding ways to raise the bar for our program,” she said. “To go up against the team that out-rebounded you by 20, what better measure?”
>> When the Huskers began the scrimmage, Williams ran out a lineup of Hannah Whitish, Nicea Eliely, Taylor Kissinger, Maddie Simon and Kate Cain.
Whitish, a junior point guard, finished with three points (1-3 FG, 1-2 3P). Eliely had two points on 1-of-3 shooting as well (1-2 3P). Kissinger had six points while knocking down two of her three shots, she went 1-of-2 from beyond the arc and got a tough and-one to drop. Both buckets came in quick succession; she looked a little off to begin the night but flashed her ability to heat up in a hurry. Simon missed all three of her attempts while Cain hit 1-of-2 for two points.
The bench supplied 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Brown and Veerbeek led the way with five points each.
>> Grad transfer guard Kristian Hudson is quick and can handle it but couldn’t finish everything; her size (5-foot-5) makes it tough inside.
>> Each of the freshmen showed something; given the limited viewing a one-hour practice affords, this is all pretty preliminary but Williams’ class looks as good on the court as it looked on paper. Brown stood out on both ends of the floor.
She looks comfortable handling the ball or spotting up on offense and looks to have some nice tools and potential on defense.
“She has always been pretty capable from all three levels offensively,” Williams said. “We questioned a little bit last year [the defense]. I’d text back and forth with her about defense and how that’s going and she’s like, ‘It’s a work in progress, Coach.’ The one thing about her is she plays in a defensive stance and she plays hard all the time. Those two things will get you a long way on both ends of the court.”
>> The Huskers currently have six players 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2; that’s a lot of lineup flexibility Williams can work with and potential to do some things on defense. With the graduation of Jasmine Cincore, Nebraska no longer has a go-to defensive stopper and instead, Williams says, they’re going with a collective approach.
“We’ve got the potential to be long and get tips and just collectively try to get better in that area,” Williams said. “Right now we’ve fallen into that trap of letting our offensive woes dictate how hard we play on the defensive end and that’s going to be something we’ll have to figure out a way to correct right away.”
>> The team motto this season is “GUTS.” You’ll see the main Twitter account use the hashtag, you’ll see it in team facilities and you’ll likely hear it when the Huskers break huddles.
A season after the team decided on “Family” as the motto, they chose to go with an acronym rather than a catch-all phrase. It stands for “Gritty, United, Toughness and Succeeds.” It was born out of that loss to Arizona State.
“That’s really how we want to be known and what we want to play like,” Williams said.
>> Junior forward Rachel Blackburn is on a medical hardship this season and won’t be suiting up for the Huskers. Instead, she has moved into a student-assistant role. Williams said she wants to coach so she’s helping in that capacity.
>> On Monday, the Big Ten announced a preseason 12-player All-Big Ten Team voted on by the conference’s coaches. Whitish was selected to that team. Last season Whitish led Nebraska in scoring (12.6 ppg) and assists (4.7 apg) as a sophomore while also ranking among the Big Ten's best three-point shooters at 38 percent.
“Individually we feel like that was a well-deserved honor for her and we’re excited that coaches in our league have taken notice,” Williams said.
>> Nebraska landed a commitment Tuesday night from 2019 wing Trinity Brady out of Indianapolis, Indiana.
I would like to thank @George_Hill3 and @g3risingstars for everything they have done for me because without them, this opportunity would have never presented itself. With that being said, I'm very excited to announce I’M COMMITTED! @HuskersWBB pic.twitter.com/lmd4hqatGw
— Trinity Brady (@T_brady01) October 23, 2018
According to the Indy Star, Brady was in a serious car accident in 2016 that sent her to the hospital and kept her off the basketball court until July of 2017. In limited action her sophomore season, she averaged 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. Her junior season she averaged 20.8 points and 7.8 rebounds for Lawrence North High School.
The 5-foot-10 Brady visited NU earlier this year and, according to Prospects Nation, is a four-star prospect and the No. 107 overall recruit in the 2019 class. She makes three in the Huskers 2019 class, joining guard Makenzie Helms from East Haven (CT) High School and forward Isabelle Bourne, from the Australian Institute of Sport.