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TWIWBB: They Call It a Streak

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This week in Husker women's basketball celebrates as the team extends its winning streak to six and Jill's too-high expectations return. A couple of young Huskers put up 30 point performances. Who? I will give you three guesses, but you will only need two.

David McGee

After two defensive slogs against Purdue and Rutgers, we again saw some offensive output from the Huskers against Michigan. Even more impressive, that scoring output came in absence of Rachel Theriot. Against Wisconsin, Nebraska floundered against a not-good team and still managed to win by double digits.

They have now won 6 straight after starting conference play at 0-3. They are back in "bracketology" predictions and the youngsters on this team are learning how to respond and regroup in very different kinds of games. This team is learning the small things that will make a difference over time. Coach Yori used the terms "pivot and protect" describing some of the intangibles Natalie Romeo brings.

Nebraska still needs to learn how to avoid turnovers and develop that "switch" that allows them to move into lockdown mode on defense. However, I am happy to see the growth and team play that we are witnessing, especially on offense. The Huskers moved to 15-5 on the season and 6-3 in the conference. They stand at #63 in RPI.

Two Huskers put up 30 point performances this week. Jess Shepard scored 35 (and added 20 rebounds) against Michigan and Natalie Romeo put in 30 against Wisconsin. I am awfully happy those two will be around for a while yet.

January 27 - Nebraska 75 Wisconsin 62

After missing the previous game with a foot injury, Rachel Theriot returned to the lineup for the Big Red. It sounds like she could be a game-time decision the rest of the season for the Huskers.

The Big Red got out to a fast start and were up 14-4 at the first Wisconsin timeout with 5 ½ left in the first quarter. Clark and Romeo each had a three and Theriot alone had 6 of the 14 points. Wisconsin did not seem very motivated, Romeo even stole a lazy inbounds pass while she was the only Husker around two Badgers. With a minute to go in the quarter, the Huskers were up 26-10.

Romeo scored 11 in the first frame. The Badger double and triple teams against Shepard were putting the onus on the guards to find the points, and they were responding. Romeo opened the second quarter with a long three to push her total to 14 and the lead to 19. She set a Nebraska school record for three-pointers made in a season by a sophomore. (We have 9 regular season games to go!) She added another shortly after.

Nebraska had already committed four turnovers. The score was 33-14 with seven minutes in the half. The Badgers ran off five straight points to close the score to 33-19 until Havers hit a free throw to make it 34-19. She was fouled again shortly thereafter and sank both of them (36-19). The rebounding margin at this point was 20-11 in favor of Nebraska with Natalie Romeo being the most aggressive Husker rebounder.

Another 5 point run by the Badgers closed the lead down 36-24 until Anya Kalenta scored (38-24). Nebraska was not really playing with any real discipline; it looked like playground ball and Wisconsin is a decent perimeter shooting team. The Big Red needed to find their defense.

After the media timeout, the Badgers cut the lead to nine (38-29) until Romeo buried ANOTHER three (41-28). She repeated it shortly thereafter (44-28). Romeo was up to 22 points (she also had 5 rebounds).

The halftime score was 46-31. Wisconsin was surprisingly bad at screens. They did not set good screens for each other and they ran around the floor trying to avoid making contact with anyone. It seemed odd to see a team whose main strength is perimeter shooting not relish this simple task.

In the second half The Badgers whittled the lead down to 10 before a Romeo trey moved it back to 13 (51-38). A couple of quick baskets from Wisconsin cut the lead to nine and forced Coach Yori to call a timeout (51-42). The Husker offense was very different, to my eyes anyway. For some reason, Shepard spent a lot of time out at the 3-point line facing the basket and passing the ball around the outside. I think (maybe) the Husker coaches were trying to open up the middle and create some driving or cutting opportunities, but it just seemed to stall the entire offense.

After the media timeout, the lead went down to seven (55-48). Nebraska was not playing good defense either. They were just following the Badger players around and content to let them shoot at will. It was frustrating to watch. A five point run including a three by (who else) Romeo brought them back out to a 12 point lead (60-48). With that one, Natalie tied her single game school record with 8 threes.

The 3rd quarter ended on that score with a lot of urgency missing for Nebraska. Jess Shepard drew some accolades from the crowd as she had to bring the ball up on a press and even did a behind-the-back dribble in the process. Wisconsin again would not go away and cut a 14 point lead back down to 10. With that margin, Kyndal Clark dove for a ball and was somehow called for a foul to give Wiscy a possession and they capitalized to cut the lead to 8 (64-56).

The sloppy Husker defense was clearly upsetting the coaches but the players still did not seem to develop any sense of urgency. On offense, they kept trying to force shots (and turned the ball over). The early "loose" play by Wisconsin seemed to set a tone that Nebraska could not shake even as the Badgers did.

Allie Havers had a beautiful block with 3 minutes left. She followed that with a basket and was fouled. She missed the free throw but Nebraska led (70-58). With 2:20 left, the score was 70-60 and Wisconsin clearly feeling like they could take down a Nebraska team that should have put this one away by now.

Wisconsin started fouling with 1:32 left. Nebraska did their best to be sure their free-throw shooters were handling the ball enough to be the ones that got to the line. Down the stretch, Theriot hit two free throws, Clark hit one free throw, and Allie Havers hit two. Wisconsin put up a buzzer beater and the final score was 75-62.

Nebraska got outplayed for almost 3 quarters by a not-good Wisconsin team. Despite this being a win, it should have been a blowout. Hopefully this Husker team learns to avoid let-downs from this game.

On the flip side, after this team started B1G play 0-3, they have rattled off 6 straight to improve to 6-3. They have shown the ability to play all styles of basketball in that win streak; defensive slug-fests, offensive track meets, and sloppy, playground ball. The fact that my expectations have again reached a point where I am disappointed by a 13-point win against a B1G squad means this Husker team is playing some pretty good ball right now.

Natalie Romeo scored 30 points and tied her school record of eight 3-pointers made in a single game. Allie Havers got her first career double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Theriot scored 14 points and is now 17th on the all-time Husker career scoring list. She also is now #2 on the all-time career assist list (behind Lindsey Seymour). Jess Shepard had a relatively quiet night (for her) with 8 points and 7 rebounds; however, she dished out 6 assists and added two blocks.

The most awesome part? Wisconsin's Coach, Bobbie Kelsey, went on a rant about "getting your butt in the gym" in her postgame press conference. "We need more Romeo's and Bauman's out here". Enjoy.

January 24 - Nebraska 93 Michigan 81

Nebraska was without Rachel Theriot due to a foot injury and the guard who replaced Theriot in a couple of previous starts, Esther Ramacieri, did not even travel with the team due to illness. This gave Jasmine Cincore her first career start, along with Havers, Shepard, Clark, and Romeo. Clark handled point duties in Theriot’s absence.

Michigan struck first with a field goal, but their advantage did not last long. The Huskers quickly jumped out to an 21-6 lead behind the hot hand of Kyndal Clark who buried four 3-pointers in the first 4 ½ minutes. Romeo added one of her own.

The Husker posts were doing a great job on the defensive side of the ball as Havers was blocking well and Shepard was in great rebounding position. Nebraska hit all five of their three-point attempts in the first few minutes.

Michigan is a very uptempo team and they can score points. However, the Husker defense has historically given the Wolverines fits and this game was no exception. Michigan’s shooting was fairly cold early on and they were unable to generate transition opportunities. In the latter part of the 1st quarter, Michigan ran off 8 straight points (22-14). Missed layups were (again) an issue for the Huskers.

Coach Yori called a timeout and on Nebraska’s ensuing possession Shepard was whistled for an offensive foul. Then the three-point shots went cold. At 24-16 the teams traded turnovers until Shepard (assisted by Romeo) scored to regain a double digit lead (26-16). That margin remained and the quarter ended 28-18.

The second quarter found a feisty Michigan team hitting some transition jumpers. Outside of sluggish transition defense, Nebraska otherwise showed some hustle in diving after loose balls and playing tough half-court defense. Shepard and Havers really seem to be developing some excellent chemistry as their playing styles are very complimentary. Allie has developed excellent court sense and is passing the ball well to both Shepard and her guards. Even though Allie has height (6’5") and would normally be thought of as a low-post player, she has a nice mid-range jumper and hook shot which makes her a tremendous high post mismatch. This also forces the defense to space out and not crowd Shepard - almost purely a low-post player - as much.

Michigan went on another run as Nebraska was not getting back quickly on defense and was giving up a lot of transition jumpers. The Wolverines closed within six (35-29) until Jasmine Cincore scored a layup but then was whistled for a Flagrant 1 (non-ejection) foul after running into a Wolverine player as she was trying to get back on defense. Michigan’s Flaherty hit both technical fouls and got it back within six (37-31).

Nebraska then scored four straight to regain the double digit lead (41-31). The teams traded baskets with the Husker lead largely remaining around 10 until another Michigan run cut the lead to three at 46-43. Nebraska answered with a run of their own and pushed the lead out to 10 and ended the half with a score of 53-43.

Second half

Michigan and Nebraska traded baskets to bounce the Husker lead between 8 and 10 for the first few minutes. Allie Havers picked up two fouls in the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter and was replaced by Blackburn. Rachel brought her usual stalwart defense as she notched a steal and blocked shot almost immediately after she entered the game.

As the 3rd quarter wound down, the Nebraska lead grew to as much as 17. More importantly, Michigan’s center, Thome, picked up her 4th foul and headed to the bench. She was the only viable defensive matchup the Wolverines had against Shepard and Jessica ate up the Wolverine defense in Thome’s absence. After a flurry of scoring by both teams in the last minute, the Huskers held a 78-63 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The fourth quarter started as a defensive battle punctuated by fouls. Michigan cut into the Husker lead by 3 points (78-66) which were the only points scored in the first 3 minutes of the quarter. Jessica Shepard was rapidly approaching the magical 20-rebound total with 18 early in the quarter. She also went to the line to score her 29th point with 6:20 left in the game.

Nebraska’s lead was as much as 16 before being trimmed to 12 at the media timeout (86-74). The margin held up as both teams scored 7 points apiece the rest of the way and the final score was 93-81.

Shepard recorded 35 points + 20 rebounds; making history seems to be second nature for her. She became the first player in Nebraska women's basketball history to record a 30-point, 20-rebound game and garnered just about every possible weekly award as a result. She is also within 3 points of reaching the 400 point mark for her Husker career. Shepard tied the freshman career single game scoring mark at 35 (held by Jessica Shepard). She came within two of the freshman (and school) record 22 rebounds (Angie Miller). The most recent 20-rebound game by a Husker woman was in 1999 by 6’2" forward Charlie Rogers vs Drake.

Jasmine Cincore pitched in eight points and three assists while making her first career start in place of injured senior point guard Rachel Theriot. Clark and Havers both added 15 points with Romeo contributing 12. Nebraska hit 50 percent (34-68) of its shots from the floor, including 7-of-21 threes, despite going just 1-for-9 from long range in the second half. The Huskers added an 18-for-25 effort at the line. Nebraska outrebounded Michigan, 42-37, and matched Michigan with 13 turnovers.

The Huskers were shorthanded and it showed on the participation report. Anya Kalenta (senior 6’3" forward) had been seeing good minutes off the bench but was hardly in the game at all (less than a minute). No explanation was given, so I am unsure if it was a injury/illness situation or something else. Romeo and Clark stayed on the floor all 40 minutes and Shepard played 37 minutes. Blackburn and Havers traded time at post and Maddie Simon spelled Cincore a few minutes. This rotation is do-able for short spells, but in the past Nebraska has found exhaustion and nagging injuries (stress fractures) to be an issue when 6- or 7-player rotations were needed for long stretches of time. Hopefully everyone gets well soon!