UConn (2-0, 0-0) vs Nebraska (4-0, 0-0 Big 10)
Saturday, November 28, 1:00 pm
XL Center, Hartford CT
SNY & ESPN3
|#4 Moriah Jefferson||5-7 G, Sr||17.5 pts||5.5 asst||3.5 reb|
|#11 Kia Nurse||6-0 G, So||12.5 pts||3.5 asst||2.5 reb|
|#15 Gabby Williams||6-0 G, So||13.0 pts||2.0 asst||11.5 reb|
|#3 Morgan Tuck||6-2 F, R-Jr||15.0 pts||1.5 asst||7.5 reb|
|#30 Breanna Stewart||6-4 F, Sr||24.5 pts||4.5 asst||8.5 reb|
Other Key Players
|#33 Katie Lou Samuelson||6-3 G/F, Fr||3.5 pts||1.0 asst||3.0 reb|
|#24 Napheesa Collier||6-1 G/F, Fr||7.5 pts||0.5 asst||7.5 reb|
|#12 Saniya Chong||5-8 G, Jr||1.5 pts||1.0 asst||1.0 reb|
|#22 Courtney Ekmark||6-0 G, So||1.0 pts||1.0 asst||1.0 reb|
|#33 Rachel Theriot||6-0 G, Sr||8.8 pts||4.3 asst||4.0 reb|
|#5 Natalie Romeo||5-7 G, So||17.8 pts||4.3 asst||1.3 reb|
|#4 Kyndal Clark||5-7 G, Sr||4.0 pts||3.0 asst||4.3 reb|
|#43 Rachel Blackburn||6-3 F, Fr||5.8 pts||2.0 asst||8.3 reb|
|#32 Jessica Shepard||6-4 F, Fr||23.3 pts||2.0 asst||9.8 reb|
Other Key Players
|#24 Maddie Simon||6-2 G, Fr||7.5 pts||1.8 asst||2.3 reb|
|#34 Jasmine Sincore||5-10 G, So||6.5 pts||1.8 asst||3.0 reb|
|#22 Allie Havers||6-5 C, Jr||5.3 pts||1.5 asst||7.0 reb|
|#31 Anya Kalenta||6-3 F, Sr||7.0 pts||1.3 asst||5.0 reb|
During the 2009-2010 season, Nebraska shook the women’s basketball establishment by breezing through the regular season with a 30-0 record, rising to the #3 ranking, a first in Husker history. The team was led by Kelsey Griffin, a special player as Connecticut Sun fans know. The Cinderella season was spoiled by Texas A&M in the Big 12 tourney then again by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. However, Nebraska had made a statement and it continues to make itself known in the college women’s basketball landscape.
Led by 14th year coach Connie Yori, Nebraska has averaged 24 wins over the last four seasons, making a return trip to the Sweet 16 only two years after losing its superstar. While UConn fans may shrug at “only” making the Sweet 16, it is considered an impressive accomplishment to most schools. In November 2014, Yori signed the #9 ranked recruiting class, then the following year added the #8 ranked class. In the most recent polls, the Huskers have received enough votes that it would be ranked 30th, if the poll extended that far. Nebraska is not going to fade into insignificance any time soon.
Last season, Nebraska finished with a somewhat disappointing 21-11 season. However the Huskers had lost star guard Rachel Theriot (pronounced Terry-oh) to a season ending ankle injury early in February. After starting with a 17-4 record with Theriot, the Huskers limped to a 4-7 record without her. She had surgery on her ankle in February and appears to be back to form. Do not be fooled by the 8.8 point per game average – she is the real deal. Theriot was a Nancy Lieberman Award finalist as a sophomore and a preseason Wade, Wooden, and Naismith player before her ill-fated junior season. She was honored as an All Big 10 preseason selection this year. Theriot is a very good shooter from the perimeter but a great shooter overall with a 62% average. Moriah Jefferson is going to have to be sharp against Theriot, although Geno will no doubt rotate defenders on her to keep her from finding a groove.
Theriot’s backcourt partner, Natalie Romeo, is coming off a 21 point game, going 5-9 from the arc. She also led her team with 4 steals, a category in which she leads her team in the early season. Romeo is the second leading scorer for Nebraska after Jessica Shepard. She and Theriot must be kept off the free throw line as they are a combined 12-13 (92%) in FT shots.
At #3, Jessica Shepard is the highest ranked player to sign with Nebraska and may be the best women’s basketball player to come from that state. She’s averaging a Breanna Stewart-like 23.3 points per game along with 9.8 rebounds. Only a freshman, Shepard is already making her mark, unusual for a post player. Big girls generally have a somewhat steeper learning curve than guards and need a year or two at the next level to dominate. She’s a versatile, physical player that can finish strong around the basket or step back and take a jumper. As Shepard increases her physical strength and gains some college experience, she will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Yori has assembled an impressive assortment of versatile players that all share the ball well (Nebraska is averaging 23 assist per game) and as a team, out rebound opponents 51-33. However, this guard-oriented group is pretty young in key positions. Shepard is a freshman as is her starting frontcourt-mate Rachel Blackburn. Romeo is a sophomore. The advantage to youth is that it’s fearless but the downside is that young players lack experience (thank you, Captain Obvious!) but also typically lack physical stamina. This is very bad news against UConn, one of the most, if not the most, well-conditioned teams in the game.
It should also be noted that Nebraska’s sparkling 4-0 record and 47 point margin of victory has come at the expense of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, North Florida, North Carolina Central, and Southern University, and that all games were played in Nebraska. This is not a knock on Nebraska – with a young group of starters in what is essentially a rebuilding year (only two starters are back from last season), Yori may have wanted a few games in familiar surroundings to integrate the new players.
Nebraska will have its hands full with the Huskies, though. As terrific a talent as Shepard may be, she will be facing Breanna Stewart, a daunting task even for teams with more experienced players. Shepard will get some points, she really is that good, but then she has to run down the court and defend Stewart. How long can a freshman do that against a senior that happens to be one of the best college players ever?
Nebraska has most likely never seen a player like Gabby Williams because, really, has anyone? The Energizer Bunny is EVERYWHERE on the court, stealing balls, skying for rebounds (hey, can the kid dunk? probably), and being wherever she needs to be. This future All-American is a great X factor because teams need to prepare its guards and its forwards in an attempt to slow her down.
I haven’t even mentioned Morgan Tuck. She’s going to face off against the freshman Blackburn, not a favorable matchup for Nebraska. Geno Auriemma once described Barbara Turner as “slithery”, a term I like to apply to Tuck. She has got to be the quietest 15 point scorer on the team but is a dangerous silent assassin.
To me, the matchup of the game isn’t Shepard vs Stewart, it’s the UConn backcourt vs the Nebraska backcourt. Theriot is a senior and she’s faced top teams in the past so I can’t imagine she’ll be intimidated. The Lieberman finalist will be facing the Lieberman winner while two talented sophomores go head to head. This should be a really entertaining matchup.
I look for this game to be somewhat similar to the KState game in that Nebraska will fight for the entire 40 minutes but eventually succumb. I hope the Huskers stay on the schedule for years to come as I think they’ll be contenders. Sweet 16 this year for the Huskers? Let’s see them play first, but based on talent, on paper, they’d have a chance.
Useless factoids: 1. Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard were teammates on the gold medal winning U18 USA Basketball team and 2. Former Rutgers guard Katie Adams is part of the Nebraska coaching staff as Administrative Assistant.by
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