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TWIWBB: Time to Get Excited About This Team

This week in Husker women's basketball recaps the body bag portion of the Husker non-conference slate and sums up what we have learned about this young team so far. Short version - they can put points on the board and and Jessica Shepard is probably as awesome as we thought she would be.

Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

Since my last article, the Huskers have won three more to move to 4-0. They are dominating competition they are supposed to dominate but you can see another gear this group has not had to use yet. What is more difficult to spot, but equally impressive is the defensive effort the Huskers are putting forth. Somehow, they are being overlooked in the polls as they currently sit in the 31/32 range. Five other Big Ten teams are ranked with #6 Maryland leading the way and followed by Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Iowa.

If Nebraska has an Achilles heel at this point, it is free throw shooting. The team is averaging around 68% with Shepard at 54%. If this is not corrected, it will cost them a game at some point this season. A couple of sloppy starts also raise concerns, but so far they have been able to fight through those.

In short, this Husker team is going to be fun to watch. They are still a ways off from competing with the UConn's of the world (but so is almost all of women's basketball). They are also not  likely at Maryland's level yet, but should wreak havoc among the group chasing the Terrapins for B1G honors.

I will hopefully get a chance to eat my words about UConn as the Huskies are up next on the schedule. The game will be in Hartford on Saturday November 28 at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN3.

Recap: November 23 - Nebraska vs Southern University

In the first 27 seconds of the game, Jessica Shepard kept the stats people busy with 2 points and 2 rebounds.  She followed that up by beating everyone down the floor and handling a Romeo pass for two more points. As if no one could believe a post player could really lead a transition break, she repeated it a couple minutes later. She scored the first 8 points of the game for the Huskers, aided by some great assists by her guards. Understatement alert: It was a nice start by the reigning Big Ten freshman of the week.

Rachel Theriot finally scored the first non-Shepard points for the Huskers as she nailed a three. A rare five-point play by Nebraska capped a 13-2 run. Simon scored a basket and then an inbounds steal and three by Romeo caused a Southern timeout. Natalie Romeo was causing heartburn for Southern everywhere. Even last season, as a freshman, Husker fans could see her abilities as an offensive threat. So far this season, she has developed into an on-ball defender to be reckoned with. She forced bad passes, picked off steals, and had a great sense of where her teammates would be as she threw down court for transition plays.

The Huskers opened a 31 point lead with over 6 minutes left in the SECOND quarter. The transition game was again causing nightmares for the opposing team as any of the Husker players, including posts, are athletic enough to handle the ball on the break and disciplined enough to fill lanes and provide targets for the ball handler.

The Huskers forced 15 first half turnovers by the Jaguars. I lost my feed for a bit due to connectivity issues, but regained it with Southern shooting two early in the 3rd quarter after a technical foul by Shepard. The game had been chippy all along but boiled over at that point. Shortly after that Natalie Romeo hit her 3rd triple of the quarter (assisted by Shepard), accounting for all 9 of the Husker points so far in the second half. The lead was extended to 40.

Jess Shepard picked up her fourth foul with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. By the time the game was done she did NOT register a double-double for the first time in her Husker career with only 21 points and 6 rebounds. She checked out of the game in the fourth quarter with an 81-35 lead.

The fourth quarter was a matter of earning minutes for Husker reserves and building valuable depth for a late season run. That depth has been sorely lacking in previous years as Husker regulars were often exhausted and injured by season's end. By the end of the game, the lead was over 50 and the Huskers played a more physical game than the score would indicate. They travel to Hartford, Connecticut in one week for a huge matchup with defending national champion UConn.

Recap: November 21 - North Carolina Central

The Huskers were sluggish to start the game and the offense came down to earth a little from their previous high-flying performances. Sloppy play and turnovers plagued the Huskers (along with missed layups).

Midway through second quarter Romeo/Shepard went on a 10-0 run to put the Huskers up by 15. Nebraska finally began putting some distance between them and a supposedly overmatched opponent. Theriot was shooting really well - with great form. She had been starting to rely on floaters in past games but in this one she returned to jumpers where she was squared up with good open looks.

Romeo was an absolute pest to NCC as she was everywhere on defense, scoring at will from behind the arc, and dishing out assists like party favors. Huskers missed layup after layup. If they connected on those easy shots, who knows what the score would have been.

Allie Havers was also a beast on defense as the 6’5" junior had two blocked shots and pulled down 8 rebounds (as well as four points) off the bench in the first half. She saw extra minutes because of Blackburn's early foul trouble. In the 3rd quarter, Blackburn picked up her 3rd foul quickly and had to come out of the game for a while.

Huskers went up 46-24 after a Theriot steal finished by a Romeo layup. (hopefully the layup problems are behind them).The transition game for this Husker team was really on-point. Romeo, Clark and Theriot are all capable of setting up the transition and all three are good at filling lanes and making good passes. In a great series, the Huskers blocked three NCC shots in a row. Calenta and Havers combined for them.

There was a really (REALLY) sloppy few minutes in the 3rd quarter where the Huskers gave up points and turned the ball over repeatedly (the lead was cut to 15 from the game-high of 24) and Yori was forced to put the starters back in to right the ship.It did not help that Nebraska players were getting hammered repeatedly with no foul calls, but if that is the way the refs are letting it play, then the team needs to learn to adjust.

Natalie Romeo fired the team up by hitting a three and then immediately drawing the charge.Unfortunately on the next series, the Huskers turned the ball over and then Blackburn drew her fourth foul. Allie Havers came back in to relieve the freshman forward.The start of the fourth found the Huskers back into the groove. Shepard and Blackburn seem to compliment each other well as they each assisted baskets by the other and helped move the lead back past the 20 point mark.

At this point of the game, the only Huskers that did NOT have an assist were Maddie Simon and Jasmine Cincore. This team seems to communicate well at all levels. That has always been a strength of Rachel Theriot, but Kyndal Clark's addition was expected to add to that. Blackburn was especially on fire, playing with four fouls. She was getting steals, assists and points. Natalie Romeo was especially playing well on defense to compliment her usual offensive production.

The Huskers moved their lead over 30 with 3 minutes left in the game. Yori started subbing liberally, except for Blackburn who was fighting back for a really good game after being frustrated by foul trouble. The only question at this point was whether the Huskers would make it over 90, as they had in their previous contests (including all their exhibition). They were at 86 with 43 seconds and 88 with 9 seconds, and…..buzzer. Final Huskers win 88-47.

Recap: November 16 - North Florida Ospreys

Shepard scored the first 3 points and Theriot took an early charge - her 3rd of the year in 5 quarters of work. Clark hit an early three to put the Huskers up 6-0. After that, the Huskers got sloppy and let the Ospreys closed within a point (8-7). After a mass substitution, the bench stabilized things while Yori talked to several of her starters.

The Huskers went on a 13 point run to end the 1st quarter and were up 27-10.

They started the second quarter hot and extended their run to 19-0, even forcing a shot clock violation on one UNF possession. Shepard scored the final basket of that run with four UNF defenders trying to stop her.

Immediately after the timeout, Jasmine Cincore scored a three (the first of her career) to extend the Husker lead to 30. The defense managed to force another shot clock violation with 3:20 left in the 2nd. The end of the Husker bench came in to finish the last two minutes of the half and all 12 players had entered the game with a 30+ point lead. Emily Wood also buried her first career three pointer in that stretch. By halftime….

The interesting thing about the end of the Husker bench - they are the best defenders on the team. Even though the Huskers give up some offense when they play, other teams (especially overmatched non-con opponents) find it difficult to score points.

The third quarter found the Huskers picking up right where they left off. .

Theriot accounted for 5 of those assists, played some great defense and is still quietly scoring at a double-digit clip. She is orchestrating an offensive death-machine that is nowhere close to its full potential yet. Getting all the young ‘uns on the same page cannot possibly be as easy as Theriot is making it look right now but the chemistry being displayed is a real testament to her decision-making.

With 5 minutes left in the game Jess Shepard recorded her 10th rebound to also become the first Husker freshman to record a two double-doubles in her first two career games.