The buzzer hit zero. The Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd cheered, claiming victory in their team’s exhibition.
The Nebraska women’s basketball team, along with its head coach Amy Williams, gathered at center court to address the crowd that had gathered to watch them in the squad’s exhibition triumph over Midland University.
Then, Williams grabbed a microphone and began a speech. She thanked them for coming, asked them to bring more people next time and, finally, delivered a promise.
“This will be an incredible group to watch and we promise to lay it all on the line for you guys,” Williams said that Monday night. “It’s just going to be a fun and exciting season.”
It has been over seven months since the Nebraska women’s basketball team last took the court for a game. That game was a heartbreaking 75-71 defeat to Colorado in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, a loss that topped off a rather up-and-down season for the Huskers.
At the end of the 2020-2021 campaign, Nebraska finished with a 13-13 record, a 9-10 record in Big Ten play and a 5-4 record against ranked opponents. In a season that saw no fans in the stands due to COVID-19 concerns, the Huskers are entering the 2021-2022 season as a different unit.
“This team is special,” Williams said. “I have so much fun coaching them. Everyday in practice there’s just something that gets me fired up. There’s a lot of energy, fire and depth in this team. It’s really exciting. I love coaching them and I’m sure our fans are going to love them too.”
For the team as a whole, nearly every player from last year is returning for this over four month journey. Only one player will not be back for the Huskers, center Kate Cain, who finished her senior season.
The core of returning talent includes five starters and 10 letterwinners from its 2020-21 team. Leading the way for the Huskers will be junior guard Sam Haiby and sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne.
Both players finished last season earning All-Big Ten honors, with Haiby being named Second-Team All-Big Ten and Bourne earning Honorable-Mention All-Big Ten. Last season, the Moorhead, Minnesota native was the only player in the Big Ten to rank among the top 15 in the conference in scoring, rebounding and assists and looks to be even more dangerous this year.
Along with that, Haiby is just nine rebounds and seven assists from becoming the seventh player in Nebraska history to reach a career milestone of 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists. Haiby also has a chance to reach the milestone of 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in her Husker career, an achievement no other Nebraska player has yet to hit.
Right now, Haiby is just focused on helping her team for the upcoming season, along with having fans back for games.
“Our team missed Husker nation a lot,” Haiby said following the exhibition game. “There wasn’t a lot of fans tonight, but we know there’s going to be much more as the season goes on. They bring a lot of energy and it’s great to have them back.”
As for Bourne, she finished last season ranked second among the Huskers in scoring, with 13.6 points per game and rebounding, with 7.5 rebounds per game. The significant growth for Bourne came with her notching 21 starts, as in her freshman year she averaged 5.9 points a game and 4.4 rebounds a game on 16.6 minutes per game and started no games.
Other notable players returning for Nebraska include sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin, junior forward Bella Cravens and freshman guard Ruby Porter. Scoggin enters her second season as a Husker with a deadly presence beyond the arc. Last year, Scoggin averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 assists per game, while leading the team in 3-pointers overall with 43.
Cravens, who is returning for her second season at Nebraska, is also coming off a solid season averaging 6.4 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds. Porter, an Adelaide, Australia native, finished last season with 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in an injury-plagued campaign.
Other returnees for the Huskers include sophomore guard Trinity Brady, freshman guard Whitney Brown, senior guard MiCole Cayton, freshman forward Annika Stewart and freshman forward Kendall Coley.
“Everyone’s really excited,” Bourne said following the exhibition game. “There isn’t a day where it’s like ‘oh, practice.’ Every day we’re all excited to be there and play for each other.”
Along with all the returning members for Nebraska, the Huskers have five new additions to their roster, including five freshman and a sophomore transfer.
Nebraska natives lead the freshmen class in center Alexis Markowski and guard Allison Weidner, both of who were ranked among the top 100 in the nation. Another high ranking prospect on the freshman squad is guard Kendall Moriarty, who closed her high school career as the No. 6 player in Illinois for her recruiting class.
Rounding out the freshman class is center Tatiana Popa. The Parkersburg, West Virginia native is entering the season after not playing in her senior year of high school due to COVID-19.
“The freshmen have just kept getting better and better,” Williams said. “They show flashes of what they can do in practice. They also just find ways to get better, contribute and spark our team.”
Capping off the newcomers’ list is Oregon transfer sophomore guard Jaz Shelley, who’s coming in with an eventful year thus far. As the only collegiate player on the roster, Shelley guided the Australian National Team to win bronze at the 2021 Asia Cup. Shelley also contributed to Oregon’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen run earlier in the year, starting 11 games.
“Jaz [Shelley] is just a really smart, high IQ player,” Williams said. “She sees the floor and sees things open up. She really makes people around her better. To have another ballhandler who knows how to instigate an offense and can put players in good positions is amazing.”
The season officially starts for the Huskers on Nov. 9, hosting Maine. This will be just the second all-time meeting between Nebraska and the Black Bears. Last time the two teams met was back in 1988 where Maine defeated the Huskers 89-82 in Bangor, Maine.
This’ll also mark the first game since Feb. 2, 2020 where Nebraska will have a regular season game at home. In the exhibition game last week, the team got a taste of the atmosphere they’ll come to rely on.
“It feels amazing to be back in Pinnacle Bank with our fanbase,” Williams said postgame. “It’s a pretty special feeling for all of us. There were a lot of goosebumps and it was great to be back.”