The 2014-15 season had its share of highs and lows for the Nebraska women’s basketball team. When the team capped off a 7-0 start to the season with a home victory against No. 9 Duke before a raucous Husker crowd on Dec. 3, it seemed to be the sort of tone-setting win that would carry over to the rest of the season. Instead, the win didn’t even carry over to the next game, as the Huskers fell on the road to a sub-par Alabama team that would go on to post a 2-14 conference record in the SEC. This wild swing of performance and fortune seemed to define the rest of the season for a Nebraska team that struggled with injuries from start to finish.
Despite a bench that was limited because of injuries and lack of experience, the Huskers managed to consistently play good-to-great defense throughout the season. Nebraska ranked second in the conference in points allowed per game (60.9) and held their opponents to less than 38 percent shooting from the floor, good for third in the Big Ten Conference. Defense was this team’s calling card and, with only a few exceptions, the Huskers played well enough on that end of the floor to give themselves the chance to win in nearly every game.
The biggest problem for Nebraska this season was scoring, even before losing All-American point guard Rachel Theriot for the season to injury in early February. The loss of Theriot only made matters worse, though, as the team was forced to integrate a true freshman point guard into a leading offensive role mid-season. During one five-game stretch in February, the Huskers averaged only 53 points per game and, not surprisingly, lost 4 of the 5 games.
With an undersized starting front line that consisted of seniors Emily Cady and Hailie Sample, the Huskers had little inside presence on offense and relied primarily on guard play to initiate the offense. Nebraska was an average jump shooting team and when its outside shot wasn’t falling, which was often, the team struggled through long scoring droughts.
Despite all the adversity, the Huskers still managed 21 wins and a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament. This can be attributed to two things: coaching and the senior class. The 2015 seniors, the winningest class in school history, led by example and ensured the team’s effort never wavered. Coach Connie Yori and her staff also did an admirable job of getting the best out of what they had to work with, maximizing the team’s strengths and masking its weaknesses. Keeping this season’s many adversities in mind, it’s hard to fault the Huskers too much for the areas in which they came up short. For that reason, the team deserves a B for its final grade.
The story of the Huskers 2014-2015 season was one that began with promise, hit tragedy, continued hopefully and ended respectfully. Although they didn’t make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament or duplicate their 2014 Big Ten championship, the biggest challenge this year was adjusting.
And the biggest adjustment of all came after junior Rachel Theriot went out with an ankle injury in practice before the Feb. 5 game against Rutgers. Shifting around a unit to compensate for a crucial leader in points and assists took time, and that showed in their record.
Before Theriot’s injury the Huskers had an 18-6 record and were ranked No. 15 in the AP Poll, their highest ranking of the season behind their initial No. 12 pre-season ranking. After the injury, the Huskers went 3-5 in the last eight games of the season and their rank fluctuated with a downward trend. Although they never found a solid groove in the final stretch, there were still positives that emerged.
Freshman Natalie Romeo upped her already strong three-point game as well as her threat level inside the paint. Senior Emily Cady stretched her aggressive defense into a consistent offensive force that had her leading in points and rebounds nearly every game.
But it wasn’t always about numbers. One of the most memorable moments in those final eight games was watching senior Hailie Sample fight through a sprained ankle in the last 10 minutes of a loss against Iowa. That kind of tenacity embodies the strength and willpower of the Huskers’ final moments.
That’s why their loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament, their third loss to the Hawkeyes of the year, or falling out of the NCAA tournament at the hands of Syracuse in the first round might not have felt so bitter.
One thing that was never missing from the Huskers all season was solid effort and a “pick yourself up” kind of attitude that gave fans hope until the very end.
And even when things got really bad, Yori and her team never seemed frustrated.
Their fight was fun to watch, and even though they came up short, they put everything they had into each game, which didn’t leave fans with feelings for what could have been.