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USC Upstate vs. Nebraska, 11.11.18

Nebraska's Leigha Brown drives to the hoop against USC Upstate at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Nov. 11

Coach Amy Williams doesn’t want to call what the four freshmen on the Nebraska women’s basketball team have added to the team this season a pleasant surprise. So maybe it’s just pleasant.

“We recruit kids because we expect them to be able to come in and contribute,” Williams said. “It’s not a total surprise, but in some regards it’s been really good to have some of the production that we’ve been able to have in key times from some of our young kids.”

Nebraska is an extremely balanced team this season -- eight players average between 11 and eight points per game – but two of the top four scorers are freshmen.

Freshman guard Sam Haiby leads the Huskers in scoring at 11.1 points per game. Among the other three freshmen, Leigha Brown is tied for third in scoring (8.8 per game) and Ashtyn Veerbeek is tied for sixth (8.3). Also, Kayla Mershon averages 2.5 points per game.

The freshmen have added playmakers and depth at each position, Williams said.

“We feel confident that, hey, we can have another threat down on the block besides just Kate Cain," Williams said. “We can go to an Ashtyn Veerbeek, and she can do some things and put the ball in the bucket. And Sam Haiby can take some people off the dribble and create some offense just by really attacking. And Kayla Mershon, who I think has proven to be very effective defensively. And with Leigha, I think our team has a lot of confidence because they watch her in practice every day be able to score at all three levels."

Veerbeek also ranks second on the team in rebounds with 6.3 per game.

When Nebraska rallied to beat Michigan on Friday to start the Big Ten season, Haiby scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including making both three-point attempts.

Haiby is the team’s leading scorer, but has yet to start a game. To this point, Williams has decided it's best to have Haiby come off the bench in favor of starting Nebraska’s more experienced players.

“I think that it allows (Haiby) an opportunity as a freshman to be able to get a feel for the game and flow for the game, and then when she comes in, to have a little more confidence,” Williams said. “The one thing we’ve been really working with Sam on is to be a little more vocal. She by nature is kind of quiet, and when she comes in and plays minutes at the point, or off the point, we just need a little more.”

It’s a work in progress for Haiby to be better prepared to take control of the offense, Williams said. And Haiby is still averaging 22.6 minutes per game and playing in big moments at the end of the game.

“In our perspective, we don’t put a whole lot of stress on who starts and who doesn’t start,” Williams said. “The fact is they’re playing minutes, and we want them to focus on whatever minutes that I get, I’m going to make the most of them, whether that’s in the first three minutes of the ball game, or if it’s in the last four minutes of the game.”

After Nebraska had a 5-6 record in the nonconference season, Williams is hoping the Huskers can reset the season as Big Ten play begins.

The win against Michigan was one of Nebraska's best wins of the season, and vaulted the Huskers up about 30 spots in the RPI to No. 90.

Now Nebraska travels to play Ohio State (4-6, 0-1 Big Ten) on Monday with another good chance to win against a team in rebuilding mode after winning the Big Ten title last season. The game begins at noon and is on TV on BTN.

But Nebraska has yet to win a road game this season, going 0-5.

“Now the big challenge for us is to find a way to get over the hump and (win) away from Pinnacle Bank Arena,” Williams said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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