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TWIWBB: Huskers Notch Their First Road Win

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This week in Husker women's basketball chronicles 2 wins and 1 loss this week. The lopsided loss to Maryland was expected, but no one was sure how the team would respond. Fortunately, they dug deep and won their first two conference games.

David McGee

The Huskers now sit at 11-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play after this week’s contests. The lopsided loss against Maryland was pretty much expected (I had it penciled in as a 25 point loss even back when this team was operating at peak efficiency). The game against Illinois was not pretty, but the Huskers had enough in the tank to convincingly put away a team they should have. Against Penn State, they broke the game out early, and hung on for a closer-than-expected win.

Nebraska’s two highly touted freshman, Blackburn (6’3" forward) and Simon (6’2") guard are both returning to the floor after missing multiple weeks missed due to injury/illness. Both are showing a fair bit of rust; Blackburn turned the ball over 4 times in 12 minutes (against Illinois) and Simon twice in 7 minutes of play. Allie Havers (6’5" jr.) has filled in pretty admirably for Blackburn (who started the first several games of the season over the veteran). Havers’ improved floor vision and passing have made her a more reliable offensive threat than in the past. Blackburn still probably holds the edge in rebounding and defense, so it will be interesting to see what Coach Yori does as Blackburn gets her form back. At the very least, it will be nice to have that robust post rotation we saw earlier in the season.

January 13 Penn State 78 Nebraska 83

The big news was that Esther Ramacieri started in place of Rachel Theriot. According to Coach Yori, it was not injury but an "internal matter" that resulted in the benching. Penn State came into the game 5-10 and 1-3 in the conference. Despite their poor record the Lions were statistically a MUCH better team at home, so Nebraska needed to play well.

Jess Shepard showed off her athletic ability from the start as she ran the floor as well as any guard out there. Perimeter defense early was not tight as the Huskers allowed a couple of early open threes for the Lady Lions. It got better, largely because Nebraska’s posts did not need any help defense from their guards to handle the Penn State posts.

Penn State is a team in year 2 of a major rebuild. They have talent, but much like Nebraska, they tend to be young and are not experienced in playing together yet. They also probably had Theriot as a prominent part of their game plan - which had to be scrapped when she did not appear on the floor.

Romeo was hot from the start and one of her better early scores was pestering an inbounds play (it was solely her and two Penn State players) and she got a quick steal right under the basket and layed it up for a score. It happened so fast the announcers did not even realize it and Coach Yori said after the game she was looking away and missed it too. The Huskers put the hammer down and kept running the short-handed Lions (only dressing nine that night and largely only playing six).

In the second quarter, the Lions whittled an 18 point lead down to as little as 7 before the Huskers came alive and regained a double digit lead. Natalie Romeo was a freakin’ assassin with 24 points on the strength of six three pointers. The Lions did not have the combination of size and athleticism in the middle as Nebraska which helped fix some of the Husker rebounding woes (some - they still gave up too many offensive rebounds to Penn State).

Throughout the half, Ramacieri, Clark and Cincore traded off point duties, leaving Romeo free to shoot (which obviously was a good call). However, when the clock wound down and Yori needed to be sure the situation was managed for a last shot, Natalie moved to the top to direct that. She absolutely has the trust of this coaching staff in a wide variety of situations.

Allie Havers showed herself to be a big key to the game offensively as she had a great sense of when to shoot and when to pass. She also found a sweet spot on the floor 12-15 feet out on the right baseline. When your bigs can hit those mid-range jumpers AND are seeing the passing lanes well, it makes life difficult for the opposing defense.

Theriot came on the floor with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. The two teams basically traded baskets the entire quarter. I do not think this is Theriot’s fault, but the rebounding went cold and Romeo was not as aggressive. The turnovers showed up again when several passes to Shepard were either too strong or picked off. Theriot brings great floor vision and judgment to the team, but if other players get passive when she is on the floor,Coach Yori needs to help them see and avoid it in the future. Against a poor team like Penn State, the Huskers got away with some passivity, but they absolutely cannot afford it against good teams (as we have already seen).

The Lions whittled the lead down to nine (62-53) at the end of the third quarter.Penn State opened the fourth with a quick three to bring the lead down to six and then fought their way down to four and then two. Most of that came off of second chance points from good offensive rebounding. Rachel Blackburn is going to be a really good player for Nebraska, but right now she is racking up some silly fouls which limit her playing time. After some gutsy, dig-deep play the Huskers got the lead back out to 9 with 2 ½ minutes left.

It got tense as the Huskers gave up several points to allow Penn State to close the game within 4 (77-73).Kyndal Clark knocked down 2 FTs to extend it back out to 6 with 45 seconds. Shepard fouled a three-point shooter (replay showed she was clearly inside the line but the officials did not review and Yori did not notice it) with 35 seconds left to send Penn St to the line and they hit all three. The score was 79-76. Nebraska tried to run out as much of the clock as possible but turned it over. They got lucky when the Penn St player tripped of her own accord on the way to the hoop.

Nebraska was up by 3 with 13 seconds. Penn St fouled before the Huskers could inbound the ball.Clark had been aces from the free throw line all night and hit both of these shots to put a little cushion in the score. 81-76 with 13 seconds left. Penn St had 16 offensive rebounds, so outside shots were not a big risk for them as they could likely count on another Lion cleaning up a miss. The Huskers gave up a quick basket but Clark was fouled with 7 seconds left. Clark again hit both free throws to make it a two possession game. With .8 seconds, the PSU desperation shot missed and the game went final with the first Husker road win of the season.

Of note: All eight of Clark’s points were from the FT line and she is shooting over 90% from the stripe for the season.. Not only did Romeo set a school record for 3-pointers (8) but Jess Shepard became the fastest player ever to 300 career points (she needed 11 coming into this game to pass that mark).

January 10 Illinois 57 Nebraska 73

In a battle of teams that both started conference play 0-fer, both were desperate for a win. It also featured an Illini team with plenty of Nebraska ties. While Nebraska is led by Jessica Shepard from Fremont, the Illini are led by 6-3 sophomore center Chatrice White from Shelby, Neb.Nebraska welcomed the return of one its top players off the bench with Maddie Simon out of Lincoln Pius X. One of the Illini’s top players off the bench has been 5-7 guard Brooke Kissinger from Minden, Neb. LaKale Malone, a former assistant under Coach Connie Yori at Nebraska (2003-04 to 2006-07), is the associate head coach for the Illini.

Nebraska jumped to a 6-2 lead after the first of Romeo's three three-pointers in the game, but the Illini responded to take a 9-8 lead after seven straight points from Nebraska natives Brooke Kissinger and Chatrice White.However, Nebraska responded with an 8-0 run to take a 16-9 lead with 1:02 left in the first quarter before settling for an 18-11 lead at the end of the period. Shepard finished the opening quarter with five points and seven rebounds. Illinois only had three rebounds as a team in the period. The Huskers won the second quarter, 17-15, to take a 35-26 lead to the locker room at halftime, as Shepard closed the half with 11 points and eight boards.

3rd quarter. The Huskers continued semi-streaky ways as they would go on a run to extend the lead out to double digits and then turn the ball over and allow Illinois to claw back within 7 or 8. Nebraska’s guard play continues to confound me. I have sung their praises on defense, but the Illini were getting too many open shots around the perimter

4th quarter. The Illini had to use a timeout early and were down to just one with 7 minutes to play. Illinois used "buzz" defense and full court pressure to force turnovers and deny the Huskers clean passing lanes. It clearly bothered the Huskers as they hung on to the ball too long and made bad passes or go tthe ball tied up. When they did keep the ball moving, the offense was a thing of beauty.

Allie Havers was playing some really good defense. For a tall player (6’5") she can move well laterally and took a couple of charges - which were critical to deny the Illini points and protect a double digit Husker lead. She was also doing a nice job rebounding and putting the ball on the ground and dribbling.

Theriot and Shepard had a really good connection as the lobs inside to Shepard were finding paydirt.With 3 ½ minutes left in the game, Shepard had 27 points and 19 rebounds. Theriot had around 17 points and 5 assists. With 2:45 left, the Huskers managed to extend the lead to 20. Shepard was rapidly climbing toward a potential school record in the rebounding department. However, she sat down when Coach Yori cleared the bench.

Shepard's 29 points marked her second-best total of the season, and came on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor. Her 19 rebounds were five better than her previous career high and marked the second-best total by a freshman in school history.Shepard was just one point and one rebound from producing the first 30-point, 20-rebound game in school history. She added three assists in 30 minutes of action on the day. Theriot, who hit her first five shots from the floor, finished 6-of-8 from the field and 4-for-4 at the free throw line in her most efficient performance of the 2016 Big Ten season. She also crossed the 1,200-point career scoring mark on the afternoon. This is especially notable as she was clearly playing in pain.

January 7 Maryland 89 Nebraska 50

Suffice it to say the Huskers got hammered in every aspect of the game. They were outmatched on the interior, the perimeter, offense, defense, transition, and probably in timeout too. Maryland is an elite team and even when this Husker women’s team was showing flashes of their talent, it was likely to be a very lopsided loss for Nebraska.

The addition of Maryland to the Big Ten raises the stakes for an already solid women’s basketball conference.

Jasmine Cincore scored a career-high nine points and Maddie Simon added nine of her own in her return from injury.Junior Allie Havers contributed nine points and four rebounds to lead the Husker starting five, as Nebraska struggled to score against a stingy Terp defense. Jessica Shepard finished with six points and eight rebounds and Rachel Theriot managed six of her own, but no other Husker scored more than three points on the night.