Bring IT is the mantra for the 2019-20 Nebraska basketball team, and the Huskers certainly did that on Saturday night, routing Division II Rogers State 97-33 in an exhibition game at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers will get things started for real on Wednesday against Alabama A&M, but for now, here are three thoughts on the win.
We’ll start off with the negative here than circle back to the positive.
Rogers State was hopelessly out-matched size-wise against the Huskers. The Hillcats' starting lineup was as follows: 5-foot-7, 5-foot-7, 5-foot-8, 5-foot-8, 5-foot-10. They had one player taller than that — a 6-foot-1 freshman — coming off the bench, and she only played 10 minutes.
Nebraska started three players over 6-feet and brought four more off the bench including 6-foot-5 junior Kate Cain.
The Huskers SHOULD have dominated inside, and they did — sort of. Nebraska had 62 points in the paint, took 32 free throws and out-rebounded Rogers State 73 to 27 including 35 to 10 on the offensive glass.
However, it should have been much worse. Nebraska only shot 57.1% (24-of-42) on layups and 43.8% (7-of-16) on other shots in the lane. Overall, the Huskers only shot 53.4% in the paint. It was really bad in the first half: 52% on layups (13-of-25) and 27.3% (3-of-11) on in-between shots, 44.4% overall in the paint. That’s not going to cut it against Big Ten teams.
Cain had 12 points, but shot 5-of-11 from the field including 1-of-6 in the first half. Grace Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 senior, was 3-of-8 inside the arc. Nicea Eliely (6-foot-1) and Trinity Brady (5-foot-11) combined to shoot 3-of-12 on 2-pointers.
The Huskers were much better in the second half, converting 68.2% of their paint looks, but if Nebraska has a first half like that against another high-major Division I team, it’ll likely be playing from behind for for the final 20 minutes.
Lock Down the Vault
As I mentioned above, Rogers State was out-matched physically. That’s usually the case when a Division I team plays a Division II squad. But even so, I was impressed with Nebraska defense, and with Coach Amy Williams’ attention to it.
The Huskers opened the game on a 10-0 run. Rogers State got its first point at the free-throw line a the 6:36 mark. The Hillcats didn’t convert a field goal until knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, and Williams quickly called a timeout to make sure that didn’t happen again. Nebraska closed the first quarter on an 11-0 run after that.
Rogers State got loose for a few more 3-pointers in the second quarter and again Williams used a timeout to correct things. The Hillcats scored 14 points in that quarter, which proved to be the high for the afternoon. Nebraska held them to 1-of-13 shooting and three points in the third quarter then cruised to the finish line in the fourth.
Overall, Rogers State shot 12-of-60 (20%) from the field and 7-32 (21.9%) from deep. The Hillcats hit five of their first 12 3-point attempts before Nebraska locked in and held them to 2-of-20 the rest of the way. Rotations were good and contests at the rim were strong. They box score credits them with seven blocked shots, but it felt like more watching live.
Nebraska might be a little streaky on offense this season, so the defense is going to have to be there consistently. The Huskers have the kind of size and lineup versatility to make that happen.
The Kids Are All Right
Seven of the 12 players who suited up for Nebraska (junior Taylor Kissinger was in street clothes) are underclassmen including three of the four players who scored in double figures. This is still a young team.
Sam Haiby had a great freshman season as she was second on the team in scoring and she picked up right where she left off on Saturday, tying for game-high honors with 12 points. She knocked down one of her three 3-point attempts and had a couple impressive takes to the rim, including a three-point play in which she made a strong move to the basket and used her length to extend and finish as the defender crashed into her body. She also perfectly executed a two-on-one fast break, dropping a dime to a teammate for a layup. She added six rebounds, two assists and two steals to her stat line in 21 minutes of work.
Not to be outdone, her classmate Leigha Brown chipped in 10 points, six boards, four assists and a block in 23 minutes off the bench. Brown didn’t attempt a 3-pointer, but she’s more than capable as she finished third on the team in both makes and percentage from 3-point range last season. SHe’s a tough match-up at 6-foot-1 with the ability to handle the ball and a knack for scoring.
Add in Ashytn Veerbeek, another sophomore who started in the middle and chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds, and the Huskers have a trio of sophomores with very high offensive ceilings.
But Saturday was the fans’ first chance to see the newcomers to the team, and each of the team’s three freshman showed some things.
Isabelle Bourne, a 6-foot-2 froward from Australia, put up six points, five rebounds, three blocks and an assist in 13 minutes. Trinity Brady, a 5-foot-11 forward from Indianapolis, was hustling all over the court and though she struggled a bit offensively she still chipped in eight points, eight boards, two assists and a steal in 12 minutes. Finally, Makenzie Helms, a 5-foot-8 guard from East haven, Connecticut, showed her offensive ability, scoring six points and dishing out two assists in nine minutes. Her most impressive play was a long jumper off the bounce that was nothing but net.
The first impression for Nebraska’s freshman class was a good one.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.