LINCOLN — A coach never wants to manufacture a spark in practice. And Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams said Monday she won’t have to with her sixth team, which features 15 scholarship players and more guards than she’s ever had.
“They’re going to compete,” Williams said in advance of NU’s appearance at Big Ten media days Thursday. “They’re fighters. We have not had to beg or ask for them to go hard in practice. That’s something that is a step ahead and something we’re going to lean heavily on.”
Guard Sam Haiby agreed.
“The first week of practice has been very competitive — a lot of energy,” said Haiby, who is headed to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with Williams and forward Isabelle Bourne.
The Huskers can focus on tactics, such as a more aggressive defense on the perimeter that takes advantage of the guard depth and experience. They can also work on meshing a seasoned group of veterans with excitable freshmen who embraced the Opening Night hoops event last Friday more than anyone else.
“The whole crew of freshmen, they just have all kinds of personality, they bring energy and they want to compete,” Williams said. Haiby said the guards have been “quick learners.”
None more than Lincoln Pius X graduate and forward Alexis Markowski, who spoke on the behalf of the team to a Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd at the hoops event. She’s part of a shorter-but-scrappy frontcourt that will try to replace the defensive presence of Kate Cain, the school’s all-time shot-blocking leader who turned pro during the summer.
“She’s a very competitive young lady and she wants to do whatever she can do to help us win,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in a rebounding drill in practice or if it’s going to be against Maryland in Big Ten play. She wants to win.”
So does Haiby who, in her fourth year, has yet to play in the NCAA tournament.
She averaged 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Haiby ranks among the league’s best at getting to the rim and shot 37.4% from 3-point range. She’d like to make more shots in the area between the hoop and the arc.
“My main point of emphasis is going to be my mid-range game, developing that in practice,” Haiby said. “Fifteen feet — hitting it off the dribble. Obviously I want to get to the basket most of the time, but when teams are sagging off, I’ve got to be able to be versatile.”
Haiby played point guard much of last season; in 2021-22, she’ll be able to play off the ball more thanks to the addition of Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley, whom Williams labels a “true” point guard. Shelley, a native Australian who is close friends with Bourne, is a career 38.6% 3-point shooter, as well.
“She makes everybody else around her better,” Williams said of Shelley. “She’s a fantastic scorer and shooter ... she’s got a confidence and a composure about her, the way she plays the game, and it’s something that’s already affecting our team.”