Down 76-73 against Missouri with 11 seconds left in regulation, Nebraska needed a 3-pointer to force overtime. The Huskers got that 3-pointer from an unlikely source at the time: sophomore guard Sam Haiby.
Haiby attempted seven 3-pointers in the Missouri game, which was 14% of her total 3-point attempts last season. That was just Nebraska’s second game of the season.
Now, Haiby is the most balanced scorer on the team with the ability to make shots all around the court. On defense, the sophomore has played the pirate spot, a position meant for defensive ball-stoppers.
“As a pirate, it’s your job to locate the ball,” senior guard Nicea Eliely said. “Your job is to stop the ball no matter who it is.”
Haiby has embraced this role, averaging 1.6 steals per game, cementing herself as one of the best at stealing in all of the Big Ten.
There is no greater example than Nebraska’s most recent win over Wisconsin. Haiby had two steals on the final two possessions, denying any chance for a Wisconsin game-winner.
Those steals are a part of why the Huskers are currently 15-7 and in the thick of a race for an NCAA Tournament appearance, which is something that could not be said last year at this time.
This turnaround can be attributed to many factors, including the new lineups used by head coach Amy Williams. This season, the Huskers often run a three guard line-up. The backcourt consists of Eliely, senior Hannah Whitish and the youngest, Haiby.
“The main part of being a starter is to come out strong,” Haiby said. “Every game, being able to push those five mintues off in the right direction.”
Haiby has started every game, unlike last season, when she played every game off the bench.
The 2018-19 Nebraska season was one of grit, and for many of the young players, a chance to prove themselves to the coaches. Four freshmen came onto the roster, including Haiby, who proved she could play early on.
Haiby’s first game as a Husker was an 83-77 overtime loss to Drake, but she did not shy away in her first performance. Haiby put up 13 points in 19 minutes of action and was perfect from the free-throw line.
The loss to Drake was a solid representation of that season. Nebraska went 14-16 and 9-9 in conference play, a sharp decline from the team the year before that made the NCAA tournament. Despite the lackluster season, the young players on the team shined.
Out of the four freshmen that played, Haiby played the most minutes with 21 minutes per game. In those 21 minutes per game, she averaged 10 points per game.
“Playing as many minutes as I did, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Haiby said. “It was definitely a blessing.”
The rest of Haiby’s game lagged behind in terms of what is expected for a point guard, as she averaged 2.6 assists per game and less than one steal per game. The guard had a knack for scoring, but getting into the starting lineup took a lot more than that.
The Huskers would lose forward Maddie Simon at the end of last season, guaranteeing at least one open spot in the starting lineup next season.
For Haiby, it was a chance to prove she was not just a one-dimensional scoring threat, as she attempted only 48 3-pointers as a freshman.
“Last year, teams would scout and know she can only drive and only shoots if she’s open,” Eliely said.
Haiby still averaged 10 points per game last year despite making only 15 3-pointers in her first collegiate season. In the off-season, Haiby continued to work on her game. One area she wanted to improve was her 3-point shooting.
“Being able to score at multiple levels is a pretty big asset,” Haiby said. “At this level of play in the Big Ten, making hard drives wasn’t enough.”
Shooting took time for Haiby to improve on, spending most of her summer in the gym or working out. Over the off-season, Haiby was constantly focusing on improving her game any way possible.
“I noticed that she came to the gym a lot … working with any of [the coaches] and just got extra shots up,” Eliely said.
Another area Haiby needed to improve was becoming a smarter player on the court.
“Having a year under my belt, it helps me definitely make the correct read more than I did last year,” Haiby said. “That goes with the maturity of your game.”
Maturity may sound obvious, as Haiby is a year older now, but other players look up to her understanding of the playbook. That puts Haiby on a higher bar than most, but she uses those high expectations to her advantage.
Aggressiveness is what Eliely noticed when her and Haiby began playing together. Now, in Haiby’s sophomore campaign, aggression gives Haiby an understanding of what needs to be done.
That either means Haiby needs to shoot more and play the pirate role, which is tiring, Haiby said. The different roles demand Haiby to do more, and now she has become a strong asset for the future.
“I want to play at 110% everytime I’m on the court,” Haiby said.