FINDING A WAY
The Husker’s roster upheaval began early.
First came the outbound transfers:
Leigha Brown exited to Michigan, Kayla Mershon to Minnesota, Ashtyn Veerbeck to Dordt (NAIA) and Makenzie Helms to Quinnipiac. All appeared to be returning closer to home.
Leigha Brown’s hometown is Auburn, Indiana, which once manufactured some of America’s coolest cars and is located only a couple of hours from Ann Arbor. Brown was the most notable loss since she was the Husker’s leading scorer (13.8/conference game) and their leading mystery-why wasn’t she starting? In Lincoln, Brown was the B1G’s sixth player of the year. In Ann Arbor, before her covid break, Brown was averaging 24 points/game as a starter.
Ashtyn Veerbeek who started every B1G game for the Huskers returned to her hometown of Sioux Center, Iowa which is also home to Dordt University. Dordt is one of several universities affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church of North America which has its roots in the former Dutch Reformed Church-in case you ever wondered what became of Calvinism.
Gopher fans know Kayla Mershon’s hometown. And finally, two games into the season, Makenzie Helms from East Haven, Connecticut portaled out from Lincoln to Hamden Connecticut.
Then came the injuries: In September, senior wing and three-point shooting ace, Taylor Kissinger medically retired after battling to return from hip surgery. Guard Nailah Dillard, a transfer from Texas Tech, suffered an injury during the summer which led to season ending hip surgery. Junior guard Mi’Cole Cayton, a transfer from California, hoped to put her Cal knee issues behind her. Thus far she hasn’t been cleared to play for Nebraska. Starting sophomore guard, Trinity Brady, suffered an ankle injury in the seasons second game and has remained sidelined. Starting wing Isabelle Bourne suffered an ankle injury late in the Michigan State game and did not return for Ohio State.
Then came the inbound transfers. Mi’Cole Cayton and Nailah Dillard were mentioned above. Starting forward Bella Cravens and her rebounding prowess arrived from Eastern Washington and starting point guard Ashley Scoggin brought her three point shot from Salt Lake City Community College.
Staying Out of the Bottom Four:
All this turmoil has frequently left Nebraska with seven or eight available players. Even so, fifth year Husker head coach Amy William’s Big Red have found a way to a 5-3 conference record. Nebraska has become that scrappy team Lindsay Whalen would like Minnesota to be. If the Gophers (1-6) are going to escape the dreaded bottom four (Wisconsin 0-7, Illinois 0-5, Gophers 1-6 and Penn State 1-4), a win over the Huskers seems, shall we say, pressing.
How the Huskers Have Done It:
After scraping by a terrible Illini club in the B1G opener 78-72, the Huskers were blitzed at Indiana 45-81 and dumped at Purdue 72-83. Against visiting Illinois both Sam Haiby (35 points) and Isabelle Bourne (21) logged career highs in points and Bella Cravens a career high in rebounds with 16.
Things took a quick turn for the better with a Haiby’s game winning buzzer beating put back giving the Huskers a 65-63 victory over Northwestern. Nebraska won the three-pointer battle going 9-20 and dominated the boards (47-35). Rebounding was spread pretty evenly; Kate Cain 11, Bourne 10, Haiby 8 and Cravens 8.
Rutgers was next to visit Lincoln. The Scarlet Knights were dispatched in a 53-50 boredown. Isabelle Bourne had herself a game. In addition to scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, Bourne held Arella Guirantes to 8 points. Guirantes entered the game averaging 25.
Then it was on to Michigan for the highly anticipated game against new Wolverines starter Leigha Brown. Unfortunately, Brown was out because of covid protocols. What transpired was a late game Nebraska rally which fell just short 62-64. Haiby led the Huskers with 27 points and 9 rebounds. However, Michigan did its work inside: Naz Hillmon had 35 points and 22 rebounds on her way to being named National Player of the Week.
Staying in Michigan, three days later the Huskers upended a seemingly disinterested Michigan State 68-64. Nebraska led 39-30 at the half before a Sparty surge took back control in the third quarter. But, you can’t leave the Huskers for dead. A fourth quarter rally gave Nebraska the win. Bourne led Nebraska with 18 points and 7 rebounds. Haiby had her first double double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Returning to Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers found a way to defeat their third top 25 opponent. Playing without the injured Isabelle Bourne and with seven available players, Nebraska took down Ohio State 63-55 to remain unbeaten at home. Nebraska got a career effort out of Kate Cain: 22 points, 12 rebounds and 9 blocks. Sam Haiby contributed 11 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Also making a difference was Bella Cravens with 14 rebounds. Whitney Brown came off the bench knocking down 4 of 8 from behind the arc. All in all, it was the best this makeshift roster has played.
On February 4, 2017 Minnesota defeated Nebraska in OT 79-69. It was the last time we won in Lincoln. Carly Wagner led the Gophers with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 0 turnovers. We’ll need a similar effort on Tuesday from some one.
Last Season’s Games:
#24 Minnesota traveled to Lincoln in early January feeling pretty good about the season. The Gopher’s eleven wins were bookended by an opening season loss to Missouri State and a three point New Year’s Eve home loss to Ohio State. Minnesota was 1-1 in the Big Ten. A Hannah Whitish three pointer late in the first quarter gave the Huskers a 13-10 lead they never relinquished. Nebraska shut off a few Gopher runs to win 72-58.
Minnesota was on a streak that saw them lose 7 out of 8 conference games. Kate Cain was a particular problem for Minnesota with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. Cain was on run of games in which she lived up to her billing. Sam Haiby was almost as big a thorn in the side with 17 points and 8 rebounds. Former Husker, current Gopher, Kayla Mershon played 9 minutes grabbing 5 rebounds and committing 3 fouls. For Minnesota, Hubbard scored 12, Scalia 5 (with 7 rebounds) and Powell 8. The Gopher’s leading scorer was Taiye Bello with 16 points and 5 rebounds. T Bello fouled out in thirty minutes of play.
At the end of January, Minnesota ended its 7 of 8 losing streak by defeating Nebraska in Minneapolis, 67-61. What had been a back and forth game saw the Huskers close the half on a 8-0 run for a 35-27 lead. Trailing 55-49 in the fourth quarter, Jasmine Powell scoring 9 of her 19 points during the rally led a Gopher comeback for the win. Powell also had 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Scalia contributed 11 points and Taiye Bello had a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. For Nebraska, Kate Cain was limited to 4 points and 6 rebounds; but managed 6 blocks. Haiby had 10 points, 3 rebounds and 6 turnovers. Isabelle Bourne scored 8 points in 18 minutes and our favorite Husker, Kayla Mershon, scored 2 points in 8 minutes.
B1G Wins: Illinois 78-72, Northwestern 65-63, Rutgers 53-50, @Michigan State 68-64 and Ohio State 62-55
B1G Losses: @ Indiana 45-91, @ Purdue 72-83, @ Michigan 62-64
Non Conference Wins: Oral Roberts 90-61, Idaho State 64-51
Non Conference Loss: @ Creighton 62-78
Sam Haiby Last Six Games
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Purdue 16 2 3 33 4 Northwestern 19 8 5 34 2 Rutgers 16 5 5 37 1 Michigan 27 9 3 38 4 Michigan State 11 12 4 35 3 Ohio State 11 8 10 39 2
Isabelle Bourne Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Purdue 22 7 4 36 0 Northwestern 11 10 3 36 3 Rutgers 11 12 3 37 3 Michigan 9 3 2 36 2 Michigan State 18 7 3 36 1 Ohio State DNP
Probable Starters (B1G Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’9” G Jr Sam Haiby 35.3 17.5 7.4 6’2” F So Isabelle Bourne 35.11 15.4 7.6 5’7” G RSo Ashley Scoggin 32.1 7.5 2.5 6’3” F Jr Bella Cravens 28.1 7.3 9.8 6’5” C Sr Kate Cain 29.5 8.1 6.1
Bench (Big Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’10” G Fr Ruby Porter 14.3 3.3 1.7 5’8” G Fr Whitney Brown 18.6 4.6 1.8 6’3” F Fr Annika Stewart 14.9 2.3 2.9