Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Storylines to Follow in Nebraska Women’s Basketball’s Offseason

March 26, 2023

After a season which fell short of preseason expectations, Nebraska women’s basketball and head coach Amy Williams head into an important offseason. 

The Huskers could potentially return all but one of their 13 players from the 2022–23 roster, the lone surefire departure being five-year major contributor Sam Haiby. Beyond that, a couple of the team’s best players have decisions to make, and the depth of the team could shift. 

Here are the offseason storylines that will begin to shape Nebraska’s quest to return to the NCAA Tournament. 

Jaz Shelley and Isabelle Bourne’s pending decisions

Without a doubt, the biggest story of the offseason is whether two of Nebraska’s best players will return for a fifth and final season.

Jaz Shelley and Isabelle Bourne both can take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by COVID. Neither have made their decision publicly. They were the team’s top two scorers, and would without a doubt have major roles at Nebraska again should they come back. However, there’s much more to consider.

Shelley and Bourne came to Nebraska from Australia, and returning home to begin professional careers is an option. Former Husker Ruby Porter only played two years of college basketball, much of it coming off Nebraska’s bench, but made the decision to leave last year in favor of playing professionally in Australia. Name, image and likeness restrictions on international athletes also take away some of the appeal for a return.

Shelley has been a star for the Huskers in her two seasons after transferring from Oregon. It’s been easy to tell how much opposing coaches respect the all-around guard just from this year’s postgame press conferences, and that was further evidenced when Big Ten coaches selected her to the all-conference first team.

While her efficiency as a scorer dropped this year — her team-leading 14.5 points per game came on 38.9% shooting — there weren’t too many other shortcomings. Shelley is one of the best passers in the Big Ten, may be Nebraska’s best defender and is still capable of going off for 30-plus points in a game. She also played 36 minutes per game, ranking in the top 15 in the country for total minutes this year.

Her departure would completely change things for Nebraska. Even when she’s not scoring, her passing is a major source of offense.

Bourne’s decision is also crucial, even if to a lesser extent than Shelley’s. A four-year contributor and three-year starting forward with the Huskers, Bourne is one of the most efficient and consistent forwards on the team. Nebraska’s frontcourt depth is somewhat questionable, and she’d leave a big hole to fill.

These upcoming announcements will dictate whether Nebraska’s offseason goal is simply to strengthen depth, or completely retool the roster.

Other roster movement

Nebraska can return 12 players, meaning the three incoming freshmen would take that number to 15. 

Beyond Shelley and Bourne, it’ll be worth watching if anyone else departs. Six players from Nebraska’s 16-player 2021–22 roster left, many of them finding new homes through the transfer portal.

Two players with more questionable futures with the program might be Trinity Brady and Nailah Dillard. Brady has played 27 of 122 possible games in her four years at Nebraska, 17 of those coming in her freshman year. She was a starter early this past season for Nebraska, but missed the rest of the year after suffering a concussion against Virginia Tech in December. Dillard hasn’t played a game in her three years with the Huskers, also due to injury.

Of course, it’d be great to see either return and be able to play. At this point, however, you do wonder what that picture looks like.

Besides that, Nebraska could look to further improve its depth in the offseason. The Huskers don’t need a fantastic bench, but the 2021–22 tournament team had major reserve contributors. Even when Allison Weidner entered the starting lineup after Ashley Scoggin’s departure, Bella Cravens was a player of starting caliber. 

Nebraska didn’t have that this past season, in part due to multiple injuries to key guards. The bench was inefficient, with Annika Stewart being the only non-starter to shoot over 40%. Her mark of 42.8% still isn’t too impressive for a post player, and her shooting numbers have dipped each of her three years with the team.

Even if Shelley and Bourne return, the bench group is set to remain the same, plus three freshmen. Weidner will return from her season-ending injury to fill the starting role that Haiby leaves.

In the transfer portal, it’ll be interesting to see where the team goes. If Bourne comes back, that’s a lot of minutes taken up at forward, plus two more incoming. There’s plenty of guards too, but on the offensive end, the majority of their shots are 3-pointers. A guard or even a guard/forward who can attack the paint consistently would be a big help.

Nebraska’s scheduling

This will come together relatively further down the line this offseason, but Nebraska played one of its toughest schedules ever this past season.

The Huskers matched up with four tournament teams in nonconference play — Creighton, Drake, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech — along with a Kansas squad that just missed the bracket. Only the matchup with the Jayhawks was at home.

While Nebraska will surely keep playing Creighton each year, it will be intriguing how the rest of the nonconference schedule shakes out. The 2021–22 early slate wasn’t as strong, helping the team start out 12-0. The Huskers can afford a lighter schedule, given the strength of the Big Ten will always provide multiple opportunities for big wins.

Bad conference losses seemed to be what really sunk Nebraska’s tournament hopes this past year anyway, and the team could have most of its top players back. Nonconference wins over teams like Mississippi State and Kansas were surely big helps to Nebraska’s postseason chances, so another tough schedule also could be interesting.

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