The departure of senior center Kate Cain, the best shot blocker in the history of the Nebraska women’s basketball program, might lead some to believe that the team will take a step back next season.
However, the team’s current roster would disagree.
Nebraska’s leading scorer in 2020-21, junior guard Sam Haiby, averaged a solid 16.8 points per game, something she should no doubt improve on next year. Haiby raised her scoring average by 6.8 points per game between her sophomore and junior seasons.
One of the guard’s greatest strengths is her ability to score in bunches, as she has the ability to take a game over at any point. She proved this all season, finishing with at least 20 points ten times, and even had a 33-point performance against Illinois in December.
Haiby showed up in the postseason, too. To start the fourth quarter against Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament, she scored 10 of Nebraska’s 12 points to open the quarter. Haiby also drained a three on the opening possession, and then another on the ensuing possession, keeping Nebraska’s major upset bid alive.
Behind Haiby, Nebraska saw a great season from sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne, who averaged 13.6 points per game while also grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game. Bourne’s rebounding total was second-best on the team this season behind junior forward Bella Cravens’ 7.6 average.
Bourne displayed flashes of excellence this season, showing those watching that her future is bright.
In February, Bourne put up three straight double-doubles, including a 17-point, 10-rebound, five-assist game against then-No. 9 Maryland. In Nebraska’s next game, Bourne scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds in a win over then-No. 24 Northwestern before following that up with a career high tying 22 points and 11 rebounds against Penn State.
Four different freshmen got big minutes this year for the Huskers as well, gaining vital in-game experience early and often, which should help them prepare better for next season and beyond.
Freshman guards Ruby Porter and Whitney Brown both played well in their first season as Huskers, with Porter starting 11 games while averaging 4.7 points per game. Brown only started one game, but still played 15 minutes per game and averaged a shade over three points per contest.
Freshman guard/forward Kendall Coley got her minutes increased at the end of the season, hitting some big shots in the Big Ten Tournament. Coley also has a very athletic frame at 6-foot-2, allowing her to shoot over most defenders on the perimeter and making her a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Lastly, freshman forward Annika Stewart had a great opening campaign, averaging 6.4 points per game and three rebounds in her 13.2 minutes of playing time per game.
Despite the growth expected from these players, some could argue that the Huskers won't have enough scoring options as was the issue this past season. Fortunately for Nebraska, it has recruits coming in that could have an immediate impact on offense.
Finishing the cycle with a top-25 recruiting class, Nebraska women’s basketball head Amy Williams and her staff are bringing in multiple top-100 recruits in the nation. This includes Coley, No. 49 on ESPN, who enrolled early and had a big impact on the team down the stretch.
Other players ranked in the top-100 include guard Kendall Moriarty, No. 74 on Prospects Nation, and two Lincoln natives, Alexis Markowski, No. 76 on World Exposure, and Allison Weidner, No. 80 on ESPN.
Markowski scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Nebraska Class A Championship game for Lincoln Pius X this season. Her interior presence displayed at the high school level could be a good sign for those worried about the departure of Cain.
Next season will be interesting for Nebraska, as the Big Ten will still be loaded with teams looking to make the NCAA Tournament, with powerhouses like Maryland and Indiana showing no signs of stopping.
Maryland averaged over 90 points per game this season, and its two leading scorers both come back next season as juniors. Ashley Owusu put up 17.9 points per game while fellow guard Diamond Miller averaged 17.3 points. Both guards have the chance to put up 15-20 points any given night.
In addition, Maryland hauled in the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the nation for 2021, per ESPN. It seems that the Terrapins should be the toast of the Big Ten in 2021-22.
Indiana also returns its two leading scorers in junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who finished last season with 17.8 points per game, and junior guard Grace Berger, who averaged 15.4 points per game. After finishing 16-2 in conference play and returning its two best weapons on offense, the Hoosiers are primed for another NCAA bid.
Without Cain, it will be hard for the Huskers to progress from last season to the Big Ten’s elite, but it is definitely possible. With Haiby in charge on offense, Nebraska has the chance to hang with almost anyone in the nation. However, consistency on that side of the ball is the key to their success without their shot blocking leader.