One team on the floor inside Pinnacle Bank Arena Wednesday night was experience-laden. One team wasn’t. Experience wins out more often than not in college basketball; it did in the Huskers’ season-opener against Drake.
Nebraska jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter and a 29-15 lead after 10 minutes. Nebraska never trailed in the first quarter and it led Wednesday night for a grand total of 13 minutes and 34 seconds. Drake — which went 18-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season and returned everyone — used a 30-7 second quarter and shot-making down the stretch to down the Huskers 83-77.
“Obviously we’re disappointed to lose on our home court,” head coach Amy Williams said after. “We do know and respect the team that we just played, they’re an NCAA caliber team. To open the season like that with six freshmen and sophomores playing a lot of minutes for us, there’s going to be some learning curve. There’s going to be some ups and downs.
“Two very glaring things that stand out that are very tough to overcome no matter what the opponent is you can’t turn the basketball over 20 times or give up 19 offensive rebounds. A lot of credit to Drake, I thought they came in and played like the experienced team they are, but we want to protect our home court.”
The turnovers definitely spoke to youth. Nebraska had lazy passes that were intercepted and run down in transition. The Bulldogs got 24 points of Nebraska turnovers. There were skip passes crosscourt that were easily picked off and dump-off passes that didn’t find their target.
The rebounds weren’t anything new, though. Nebraska struggled on the boards all last season. But it only lost the rebounding battle 44-40 and had 16 offensive rebounds on its own. Freshman guard Sam Haiby said that’s nice but their goal is to win the battle.
Back to that first half, though, because that was the stretch that really hurt.
Nebraska came out of the gates on fire. The Huskers sunk six triples in the first 10 minutes and hit on 56 percent of their looks from the field. Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk said Nebraska’s length was a major irritant all night, but in the first quarter it forced the Bulldog offense to operate exclusively on the perimeter.
With the size advantage, Nebraska chose to go under Drake screens often, looking to deny entry passes while still being long enough to get out to contest the three.
When the periods changed, Nebraska’s shots quit falling. The Huskers shot 12 percent in the second and senior guard Hannah Whitish thought everything that went wrong stemmed from that.
“We let our offense dictate everything,” she said. “Our shots weren’t falling and our defense, we let down a little bit and that’s when they started to go on their run.
“Our communication on defense wasn’t as high as it needed to be. We knew how high it needed to be and we just didn’t do it. We were getting hit with back-screens, they were setting a down-screen and we weren’t talking.”
Williams saw it, too. That was a point of emphasis at halftime.
“We were hanging our heads a little bit and not getting matched up like we did in that first quarter,” she said. “They took a lot of uncontested shots in that stretch.”
Those are the marks of a young team. They’re those “growing pains” Williams talks about when she addresses the youth on her roster compared to the schedule the Huskers are about to play this season.
Drake is no pushover. They went 26-8 a year ago and won their conference. The Player of the Year in the conference returned to Drake, the Sixth Woman of the year returned to Drake, the Defensive Player of the Year returned to Drake and the MVP of the conference tournament returned to Drake. All four are different ladies. The Bulldogs won their first exhibition 117-33.
Was Williams surprised the Huskers lead vanished so quickly?
“No,” she said. “Not really.”
But it didn’t stop her from trusting her rotation, Williams has always been about a deep bench. She went 10-deep within the first five minutes of the game and all 11 Huskers saw action before the end of the first quarter. It just so happens that doing that with this year’s squad means throwing out a bunch of brand new lineups.
The first two off the bench — forwards Kayla Mershon and Leigha Brown — are both freshmen. In the third quarter, Nebraska made a run with three freshmen — Brown, Haiby and Mershon — sophomore center Kate Cain and grad transfer point guard Kristian Hudson.
In fact, Nebraska’s freshmen looked better than any Husker on the floor.
Haiby finished with a team-high 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Forward Ashtyn Veerbeek spelled Cain at center and was more productive in less time. Veerbeek had eight points, seven boards, a block and a steal in 16 minutes. Cain had four points and seven boards on 2-of-6 shooting with four turnovers.
Baranczyk hoped her Bulldogs would be able to limit Cain and for the most part they were successful. Nebraska struggled to find entry passes for its center and settled for throwing the ball around the perimeter.
Both teams shot near 40 percent from the floor. Both shot well from deep (Nebraska at 36 percent, Drake at 39 percent). Both had 30 in the paint (Nebraska had one more bucket than Drake for 32 points). The difference was small.
“I think we had upperclassmen really step up,” Baranczyk said. “We had some senior leadership. We have a veteran team.”
“We had our fair share of some good flashes and some good execution but also some bonehead plays that contributed to some things,” Williams said. “We’re going to learn from that and move forward.”
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.