Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. 23/25 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Sunday, January 20, 2019, 5 p.m. (CT)
Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,000) - Lincoln, Nebraska
Live Television: ESPN2 with LaChina Robinson and Tiffany Greene on the call
Live Radio: Husker Sports Network (4:45 p.m.) Matt Coatney (PBP), Jeff Griesch (Analyst) Lincoln-B107.3 FM; Omaha-ESPN 590 AM
Huskers.com, Huskers App, TuneIn
Minnesota will be Nebraska’s fourth ranked opponent in the past five games and the third straight at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Golden Gophers come to Lincoln at No. 23 in the AP Poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, after climbing as high as No. 12 in the rankings behind a 12-0 start to their season.
Nebraska is the only team in the Big Ten with two freshmen as its top two scorers, and the Huskers are the only team in the conference with two non-starters leading the team in scoring. Leigha Brown, a 6-1 freshman from Auburn, Ind., leads Nebraska with 10.4 points per game including 13.7 points in Big Ten play. Fellow freshman Sam Haiby, a 5-9 guard from Moorhead, Minn., has added 10.0 points per game off the bench.
Nebraska’s active roster is one of the most collectively inexperienced in the Big Ten, entering Sunday’s game with just 10,022 cumulative collegiate minutes. Minnesota is the only team in the Big Ten with less collective experience than Nebraska, as the Gophers have combined for just 9,641 collegiate minutes from its active roster.
Minnesota features four active seniors who have combined for nearly 40 percent of Minnesota’s total minutes played this season.
Nebraska has just one active senior, Maddie Simon, who has provided less than 10 percent of Nebraska’s total minutes on the year.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-9, 3-3 Big Ten)
44 - Kayla Mershon - 6-3 - Fr. - F - 3.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg
31 - Kate Cain - 6-5 - So. - C - 7.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish - 5-9 - Jr. - G - 8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely - 6-1 - Jr. - G - 7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger - 6-1 - So. - G - 9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Off the Bench
32 - Leigha Brown - 6-1 - Fr. - F - 10.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
4 - Sam Haiby - 5-9 - Fr. - G - 10.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg
13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg
24 - Maddie Simon - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.1 ppg, 1.1 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 (36-42); 12th Season Overall (229-151)
23/25 Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-4, 2-4 Big Ten)
5 - Taiye Bello - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 10.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg
41 - Annalese Lamke - 6-3 - Sr. - C - 11.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg
3 - Destiny Pitts - 5-10 - So. - G/F - 12.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg
21 - Jasmine Brunson - 5-8 - Jr. - G - 8.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg
23 - Kenisha Bell - 5-9 - RSr. - G - 19.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Off the Bench
12 - Mercedes Staples - 5-10 - Fr. - G - 3.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg
25 - Palma Kaposi - 6-2 - Sr. - F - 2.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg
31 - Irene Garrido Perez - 6-1 - Sr. - F - 1.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg
20 - Kehinde Bello - 6-2 - Jr. - F - 1.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg
11 - Delaynie Byrne - 6-2 - Fr. - F - 1.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg
Head Coach: Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota, 2004) First Season at Minnesota (13-4); First Season Overall (13-4)
Scouting The Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head coach Lindsay Whalen brings her first Minnesota team to Lincoln trying to build momentum after snapping a four-game losing streak with a 78-50 win at Wisconsin on Thursday. The losses have come at the hands of Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State, and Iowa.
Whalen, a four-time WNBA Champion with the Minnesota Lynx and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, returned to her alma mater and opened her coaching career with a 12-0 record while leading the Golden Gophers to a No. 12 AP ranking to close the 2018 calendar year.
Minnesota is led by unanimous first-team All-Big Ten senior point guard Kenisha Bell, who is averaging 19.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals. Bell is shooting just 25 percent (7-28) from three-point range and 68.9 percent at the free throw line. Entering the season, Bell was a 33 percent shooter from long range and a 75 percent shooter at the line in her Gopher career.
The only Gopher guard shooting better than 31 percent on the season is junior guard Jasmine Brunson, who has hit just 11-of-30 threes (.367) on the year. Brunson is averaging 8.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists on the season.
As a team, Minnesota is shooting 30.3 percent (73-241) from beyond the three-point arc, including just 25.9 percent (21-81) through six Big Ten games.
Sophomore guard/forward Destiny Pitts, who was the 2018 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, leads Minnesota with 34 threes on the year but has knocked down just 30.9 percent (34-110) of her long-range attempts. Last season, Pitts hit 37.3 percent (90-241) of her threes. Pitts ranks second among the Gophers with 12.6 points per game, while adding 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Minnesota’s inside starters Annalese Lamke and Taiye Bello have not attempted a three this season. Lamke, a 6-3 senior center, is averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 56.2 percent from the field. Bello, a 6-2 junior forward, gives Minnesota four starters averaging double figures with 10.8 points and a team-best 12.1 rebounds. Bello has hit 56.1 percent of her shots and leads the Gophers with 22 blocks on the year.
Minnesota, which finished 24-9 overall last year and 11-5 in the Big Ten in a tie for third with Nebraska before advancing to the NCAA Tournament second round, has been hit with the losses of experienced guards Carlie Wagner (graduation) and junior Gadiva Hubbard (injury).
Minnesota’s starters have played 84.2 percent (1,010 of 1,200) of the Gophers’ minutes in Big Ten play. The five Gophers who come off the bench have combined for just 38 points (6.3 ppg) through six conference games, and 16 of those points came at Wisconsin Thursday.
Nebraska’s five-player bench has scored 202 points (33.7 ppg) in an average of 83 minutes per game in league play.
Earlier in the season, I would not have given the Huskers much chance to win this one. Now, Minnesota looks vulnerable and a losing streak is harder for an inexperienced team to shake. Nebraska has more depth than the Gophers. However, the top-to-bottom talent on this Husker squad is still struggling to develop the team dynamic that carried Nebraska to an NCAA tournament berth last season.
If Nebraska can be aggressive on the offensive end and draw some fouls and force the Gophers to rely on their bench (paging Haiby and Brown), Minnesota will likely struggle. The defensive team dynamic for Nebraska seems to be forming ahead of the offensive one (no surprise based on what I’ve seen from Amy Williams in her first two seasons) so it seems more realistic to hope the Huskers can put the clamps on the Gophers and stay in the game that way.
Outside of one quarter vs Maryland, Nebraska has been right in every conference game they’ve played, sometimes erasing large fourth quarter deficits only to fall just short. If the Huskers continue to play the way they have all season (scrappy, but discombobulated) this is a toss-up game. If the Huskers put together any significant offensive flow, I will feel better about their chances for the “W”.