Anyone who has watched Sam Haiby play for the Nebraska women’s basketball team this season — when she’s often been seen driving to the basket — probably knows what her favorite way to score is, but it’s on the record now.
“Getting to the rim,” said Haiby when asked that question. “And one (free throw).”
The freshman guard has done a lot of that this season for the Huskers, and she’s added a lot to the team. When teams focus on Nebraska’s good three-point shooters, Haiby has been able to find open driving lanes to the basket. When the defense is focused on stopping Haiby from driving, her teammates have gotten open shots.
As the Huskers (13-15, 8-9 Big Ten) go into the final regular-season game on Saturday at Penn State (12-16, 5-12), Haiby ranks second on the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game.
Ever since she can remember, getting to the basket and getting a layup or shot has been the biggest part of her game.
“I’m a little undersized,” said the 5-foot-9 guard. “I’m not the tallest player on the court, obviously, so when I can get to the rim and create that kind of shot through traffic I feel good about myself. And I like to use my speed and quickness to get around people.”
As a high school senior in Moorhead, Minnesota, Haiby averaged 25.1 points per game. She knew that in college it would be tougher to score at the rim like she did in high school, but she was ready to try.
“I like to think that’s why I was recruited,” Haiby said. “It was definitely not to shoot the three. And with my coaches' help I liked to think I would still be able to do that.”
Haiby has also helped the Huskers several times get points at the end of the quarter by quickly dribbling the length of the floor and getting off a shot.
“She’s pretty quick with the ball in her hands, and we know that she can create for herself and others in a hurry, so with five seconds left in a dead-ball situation, that’s a player that we want to have the ball in her hands,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams.
Haiby likes when she gets a chance to score in the final seconds of the quarter or game.
“I know my coach is putting me in to score and get the job done, so that’s my No. 1 goal is to bring the ball all the way down to the other end — all 94 feet — and lay it in,” Haiby said.
It was that athleticism that helped Haiby not only be a basketball star in high school, but also play on the varsity baseball team her junior and senior years as a pitcher and outfielder. As a junior she became the first female to pitch a scoreless inning in a Minnesota high school baseball game.
Haiby was the only girl on her high school baseball team. Her school also had a softball team that, like baseball, was a spring sport. But she just kept going in baseball after playing on a coed T-ball team.
“I started travel baseball when I was 10, playing with the boys, and then probably 10s through 13s was some of my favorite years playing; traveling and staying in hotels with your team on weekends was always fun,” Haiby said.
When Haiby made her recruiting visit to Nebraska, the coaches arranged for her to meet Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad, which she enjoyed because Erstad played in the major leagues and grew up in the same part of the country as Haiby in Jamestown, North Dakota.
Haiby was also recruited by Minnesota, Arizona and Creighton, among others, and Williams feels like the Huskers got a recruiting steal.
“We felt like she’s just an explosive athlete and really smooth and had a lot of the skill that we felt would translate very well into our system and the college game,” Williams said.