The Nebraska women’s basketball team returned to Pinnacle Bank Arena for the first time in 24 days last night for a 58-52 victory over unbeaten Kansas. But prior to and throughout the win over the former Big 12 foe, Nebraska struggled mightily.
The Huskers made a significant turnaround in the past two years under head coach Amy Williams. The 2016-17 Huskers ended the season with a record of 8-22, but in year two of Williams’ tenure, the Huskers won 21 games and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The team came into this season with high hopes and aspirations, but it has been a disappointing year so far for the Huskers.
The Huskers are 3-5 so far this season but have played against top-notch opponents. Over the five-game road stretch, the Huskers played four opponents that had competed in the NCAA tournament or the Women’s National Invitation Tournament last season, two of which were ranked in the latest AP poll. For a team looking to make the next jump, it has to be able to compete with those top-tier teams on the road.
Simply looking at statistics won’t find the solution, as the Huskers look favorable on paper. Nebraska holds a better field goal percentage, three-point percentage, scoring average, assist average and rebound average than its opponents. The difference for the Huskers in 2018 is simply taking care of the basketball.
In the recent win over Kansas, Nebraska had 15 turnovers in the first half and finished with 22. In the loss against Louisville, Nebraska committed 23 turnovers. The Huskers average 17 per game, which ranks 204th in the country, making it a significant problem for the team.
Luckily, the Jayhawks were only able to turn those Husker turnovers into 19 points. Multiple fastbreak or transitional possessions ended with a pass out of bounds or a forced pass into the clutches of a Kansas defender. Sloppy play is expected and tolerated with young players, but even Nebraska’s seasoned veterans are careless with the basketball. Both junior guards Hannah Whitish and Nicea Eliely tallied six turnovers in the win over Kansas.
Nebraska’s opponents are averaging 2.5 more steals per game than the Huskers. It’s not because these opponents are superb defensively, but because Nebraska hasn’t valued the basketball.
The Huskers wanted to go fast against the Jayhawks and it didn’t work. Williams and the team had to make adjustments that paid off for the Huskers in the second half.
The next step for the Huskers is finding a permanent solution. These next few games will provide a wide array of teams for the Huskers to evaluate themselves against before entering Big Ten play. Next up for the Huskers is a struggling San Jose State team (1-5) and a Denver team (6-2) which sits atop the Summit League.