Tick-tock, tick-tock: How long can Nebraska stay ahead of the clock?
The No. 21 Husker women's basketball team has won four straight games heading into Thursday’s contest at Michigan and is playing its best basketball of the season. But with a regular rotation of just seven to eight players, the clock is ticking and adding up to a lot of minutes for the Huskers.
Nebraska has four players averaging more than 30 minutes a game and three with more than 10 per game. You can set your watch to the consistency of the trio of senior Jordan Hooper (32.2 minutes per game) and juniors Emily Cady (32.6) and Hailie Sample (30.6), who have started 89 straight games together. Sophomore guard Rachel Theriot is among the top five in minutes played in the Big Ten at 35.1 per contest. Junior guards Tear’a Laudermill (22.1) and Brandi Jeffery (18.0) split time and beyond that, there’s freshman Allie Havers (12.2) and sophomore Sadie Murren (10.0).
By comparison, Penn State has three players averaging at least 30 minutes a game and six more that average at least 10 minutes. Michigan State also has three players in the 30-minute range and five more at more than 10 minutes.
Only two other teams in the conference — Northwestern and Wisconsin — have three players averaging at least 32 minutes per game.
That’s a lot of wear and tear on the main core of players. Deep teams can handle obstacles such as inconsistency, injuries and foul trouble. Teams with short benches will struggle. Nebraska coach Connie Yori has given more minutes to Havers, who has responded with her best play of the season. Havers usually spells Hooper early in the game and early in the second half.
“We’re concerned about our bench,” Yori said. “We’re not as deep as we want to be and we’re searching for backup players. There’s a big drop-off when we put our subs in, so we’ve got get more production. ‘T’ (Laudermill) has been productive in that fifth spot but we have to get production from others.”
On the road, the rotation is even tighter and the minutes longer. Nebraska handled Michigan easily in the first meeting, a 84-51 romp at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Hooper led the Huskers with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Nebraska shot 53 percent from the field.
“We were aggressive and got a lot of baskets in transition,” Yori said about that game. “We just had a great attack mentality. They (the Wolverines) will make adjustments. They’re well-coached, so it won’t be easy.”
Michigan has lost three of its past four games, including Sunday’s 65-56 loss to then-No. 25 Purdue. Freshman guard Siera Thompson leads the Wolverines with 59 three-pointers and a scoring average of 13.9 points per game. Juniors Shannon Smith (13.8 ppg.) and Nicole Elmblad (12.0 ppg.) give Michigan a strong back court.
“We need to play hard and play together,” Hooper said. “I think we still have a ways to go. We still have areas where we have to get better — offensively, defensively, communicationwise — but we’ve definitely made a step in the right direction the past couple of games.
“Road games or home games, they’re all just games. We have to focus on it like that. We can’t get all worried. You play your game, have fun, go out there and play for each other. It’s a big deal to win a road game, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a game.”