Nebraska’s women’s basketball opens conference play at home against a tough Michigan Wolverine team. The Huskers have seen a youth movement with their fabulous group of freshmen (Sam Haiby, Ashtyn Verbeek, Leigha Brown, and Kayla Mershon) playing beyond their years. Michigan also boasts a pair of excellent first year players of their own - starting guard Amy Dilk and reserve forward Naz Hillmon who is leading the Wolverines in both scoring and rebounding.
Adding to a powerful front court for Michigan is 6’5” center Hallie Thome, a four-year starter and two-time All Big Ten selection. Nebraska’s post players will have their hands full trying to own the paint and stay out of foul trouble.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6) vs. Michigan Wolverines (9-3)
Friday, December 28, 2018, 6 p.m. (CT)
Pinnacle Bank Arena - Lincoln, Nebraska
Television: BTN - Chris Vosters and Brenda VanLengen (This will be the first of eight BTN telecasts for the Huskers this season.)
Live Radio: Husker Sports Network (5:45 p.m.) Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst); Lincoln-B107.3 FM; Omaha-ESPN 590 AM
Huskers.com, Huskers App, TuneIn
Something will have to give. The Huskers have won four straight in Lincoln. The Wolverines have been victorious in their last two trips to Lincoln, including a 69-64 overtime win on Jan. 13, 2018. Nebraska has had a hard time finding their footing this season but has the talent to pull off the upset if they can get all oars rowing in the same direction.
Fans of post play will be in for a treat as they will get to see two of the nation’s top centers in Nebraska sophomore Kate Cain (9.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg) and Michigan senior Hallie Thome (12.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg). The 6-5 centers are both Lisa Leslie National Center of the Year Award candidates. Cain is averaging 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while shooting 62.8 percent from the field at home.
This game also features several excellent freshmen. Sam Haiby is NU’s leading scorer, averaging 11.0 points while coming off the bench in all 11 games. Naz Hillmon, a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, is Michigan’s leading scorer and rebounder with 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Hillmon (2nd, 12.6 ppg), Haiby (6th, 11.0 ppg), Ashtyn Veerbeek (8th, 8.8 ppg) and Leigha Brown (9th, 8.6 ppg) all rank among the top 10 freshmen in the Big Ten in scoring.
Brown, a 6-1 wing from Auburn, Ind. (DeKalb High School), was a runner-up to Michigan’s Dilk (Carmel) for Indiana’s Miss Basketball award last season. Dilk has started all 12 games for the Wolverines and is averaging 6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-6, 0-0 Big Ten)
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 8.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - So. - C - 9.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 8.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - Jr. - G - 8.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - So. - G - 10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Off the Bench
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 11.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
32 - Leigha Brown - 6-1 - Fr. - F - 8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg
13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 8.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg
44 - Kayla Mershon - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 2.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg
11(out) - Kristian Hudson - 5-5 - Sr. - G - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998) Third Season at Nebraska (33-39); 12th Season Overall (226-148)
Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 0-0 Big Ten)
15 - Hailey Brown - 6-1 - So. - F - 6.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg
30 - Hallie Thome - 6-5 - Sr. - F/C - 12.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
1 - Amy Dilk - 6-0 - Fr. - G - 6.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg
10 - Nicole Munger - 5-11 - Sr. - G - 11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
20 - Deja Church - 5-10 - So. - G - 9.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Off the Bench
00 - Naz Hillmon - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 12.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg
5 - Kayla Robbins - 6-1 - Jr. - G/F - 6.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg
14 - Akienreh Johnson - 6-0 - Jr. - G - 4.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg
33 - Emily Kiser - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg
2 - Priscilla Smeenge - 6-0 - So. - G - 2.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg
12 - Ariel Young - 6-0 - Fr. - G - 1.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg
23 - Danielle Rauch - 5-8 - Fr. - G - 0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg
21 - Samantha Trammel - 6-0 - Sr. - F - 0.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg
31 - Taylor Rooks - 6-0 - Sr. - F/G - 0.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg
Head Coach: Kim Barnes Arico (Montclair State, 1993) Seventh Season at Michigan (143-76); 23rd Season Overall (413-281)
Scouting the Michigan Wolverines
Michigan enters Big Ten play riding a four-game winning streak with a 9-3 overall record. The Wolverines are receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches Top 25.
Michigan features a blend of experience and youth. The Wolverines preseason All-Big Ten center Hallie Thome is averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. She leads Michigan with 11 blocked shots. Last season, Thome averaged 17.4 points and 7.0 boards per game.
Fellow senior Nicole Munger has led the Michigan starting backcourt with 11.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. The 5-11 guard has knocked down a team-best 30 threes, which is three more than the other 13 Wolverines combined (27). Munger is shooting 41.1 percent (30-73) from long range, while the rest of the Wolverines are just 27-of-121 (.223). Munger is also a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line.
Sophomores Deja Church (9.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.8 apg) and Hailey Brown (6.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) have joined Thome and Munger in the Michigan starting five for every game this season.
Freshman guard Amy Dilk has also started every game and is averaging 6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Dilk is shooting just 35.2 percent (31-88) from the field, including just 1-for-11 from three-point range.
Freshman Naz Hillmon has been Michigan’s most explosive player early this season. The 6-2 froward leads Michigan in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg) is shooting a superb 73.6 percent (64-87) from the field. She won back-to-back Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week awards on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17.
As a team, Michigan is averaging 75.6 points per game, while allowing 55.8. The Wolverines have dominated the boards (44.7-30.8) and own a plus-2.5 team turnover margin. Michigan is shooting a solid 45.1 percent from the field, but just 29.4 percent (57-194) from three-point range. Michigan has also hit 68.1 percent of its free throws.
The Huskers are scoring 78 points per game while allowing 71. Defense has been a Husker calling card the past two seasons, but seems to be the weak link so far this season. The Huskers are shooting 44% from the field and 35% from the three-point line. Nebraska is also a decent rebounding team - pulling in 44 boards while allowing 38, but I expect Michigan may have an edge in that area. The Wolverines are decent at forcing turnovers - something the Huskers have been more than happy to do this season. On average, Nebraska turns the ball over 2.1 more times per game than their opponent.
To win this game, Nebraska is going to have to make some drastic improvements in turnovers and defense as well as keeping Kate Cain out of foul trouble. Hopefully Amy Williams and her staff have made some adjustments during the break. The Big Ten is going to be a grind - one that could wear at the confidence of a young Husker team or one that could sharpen it.