With Amy Williams helming the ship, Nebraska has always been a “next man up” kind of program. Williams deploys as deep a bench as any team in the Big Ten, often crafting roles for every player on her roster. That approach will be tested this season.
During a radio appearance on Sports Nightly Wednesday evening, the Husker women’s basketball coach said there have only been a “handful of practices” in the last 11 weeks of work that Nebraska had more than seven of the 12 players on roster available to practice. Sometimes the number was six. It wasn’t until this week Williams had 10 available to her.
COVID-19 has caused issues, but so have injuries.
Nebraska brought in a pair of transfer guards this offseason who aren’t currently available.
MiCole Cayton, a grad transfer from Cal, is still recovering from the injury that cost her her final year at Cal. She’s not cleared for full-court work yet, though Williams said she’s been able to do some non-contact work.
“She has been allowed to do some things in practice that give us enough snippets to say, ‘Wow.’ She just has a different level, a different speed, a different athleticism,” Williams said. It’s a gear the Huskers don’t have elsewhere on the roster. “We’re all eager for that day here real soon where she’s gonna get the word that she’s cleared to get up and down and be back on the court with us. We feel very optimistic that will happen here sometime this semester.”
The other injury to note is with sophomore Texas Tech transfer Nailah Dillard.
“She’s nursing some injury and it’s kind of touch and go on her,” Williams said. “We’ll have to see if we can get her healthy to see her on the court this season or not.”
If not, that might pose a problem. Dillard, Williams said, can be a real 3-and-D weapon. A stopper at Texas Tech who guarded the opposing offense’s best player, Dillard also shot 35% on triples at the other end.
“It’s definitely presented a huge challenge for us, and the main reason is this is a team that has a lot of new faces,” Williams said. “Four transfers and three freshmen and lots of new players that needed all the reps they could get.”
The other two transfers—forward Bella Cravens and junior college guard Ashley Scoggin—seem to be settling in nicely.
Keep an eye on Scoggin. She’s had quite the journey.
A torn ACL suffered just before her senior year of high school caused her to delay her college enrollment until after the 2016-17 season, and then she landed at Salt Lake City CC for the 2017-18 season. But in July of 2017, she suffered another torn ACL in her right knee. Discomfort that lingered into 2018—Williams said that initial surgery might have been “botched a little”—forced a second surgery in November of that year. She then had a minor procedure on her meniscus in 2019.
When she was on the court, she was a first-team All-Region 18 player for a 20-7 Bruins team during the 2019-20 campaign. She averaged 10 points and five boards, and shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc.
She has three years of eligibility to play at Nebraska, and Williams sees a player every day in practice eager to finally get to use it.
“Her maturity and her ability to fight through adversity and just appreciate every chance she has to be in the gym… She is an absolute gym rat, wants to work, work, work,” Williams said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a day off, before practice, or after practice, she just spends a lot of times getting after it. She definitely has the confidence that comes when you spend that much time in the gym.”
Nebraska needs someone this season to organize the offense. That very well could be the 5-foot-7 Scoggin.
Or it could be Sam Haiby, now a junior. Maybe sophomore Makenzie Helms plays the role of initiator for a spell.
Haiby started off-ball last season, with the veteran presence of Hannah Whitish running point more often than not. Whitish is now gone following graduation. “I think there will be several different people that can play minutes there,” Williams said.
Haiby got some work there a season ago, but she wasn’t a point full-time. This is where having the full team available to Williams in practice would have helped—lots of roles need filling by new options.
Said Williams: “Sam Haiby is definitely a candidate. Makenzie Helms has shown some improvements from her freshman year to her sophomore year, just being able to be a little healthier and have more repetition. And I really feel like we’ve been seeing some really good things out of Ashley Scoggin at the point guard position as well. She’s definitely a capable 3-point threat, very aggressive-minded offensively. She can really run an offense as well.”
The Husker frontcourt is mostly known.
Kate Cain, a senior now and a team leader, will hold down the fort at center, controlling the perimeter on defense and hopefully adding a little bit to her repertoire on offense. Cravens led the Big Sky conference in rebounding a season ago at Eastern Washington, and she’s immediately eligible to play this year.
Issie Bourne is also set to be a team captain as just a sophomore. She played a bunch her first year on campus, averaging 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing in all 30 games.
“One thing we’ve tried to do this whole preseason—and we’ve been forced to do with players being out—we’ve challenged our players in different ways,” Williams said. “We might play segments of practice where Issie Bourne is having to play at the 3 spot and she’s really handled that well. She’s extended her range and her ball-handling has improved. She sees passes because she’s got good size and height on the perimeter.”
Bourne was largely a 4 and a back-up 5 a season ago for Nebraska. She did get off 42 triples in her 30 games, but she only connected on nine of them (21%). To play on the wing, that’ll need to improve.
Sophomore Trinity Brady and freshman Ruby Porter are other options on the wing. Nebraska will also be looking to make up for the loss of Taylor Kissinger, a 3-point sniper who was forced to medically retire this offseason.
After an offseason of unknowns, Williams sounds relieved to finally be at the starting line. Nebraska will open its season Friday night against Oral Roberts. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CT. It’ll also host Idaho State on Sunday at 5 p.m. CT. Neither will be on TV, with both games slated for coverage on BTN’s subscription service BTN+.
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.