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Illinois vs. Nebraska, 2/1/18

Nebraska head coach Amy Williams celebrates a 62-47 win over Illinois during the 2017-18 season.

After having the nation’s best one-season turnaround and a one-game trip to the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams wants the Huskers to come back with another good season.

“What we want to do now is we’re not trying to be one-hit wonders. We’re not trying to do a quick fix,” Williams said during a news conference Monday, about one week after official practices began.

“We never set out for that when we came here, and maybe some things turned around a little bit faster than we expected one year ago, but for us it’s finding small ways to continue to raise the bar and the expectations for our program.”

Nebraska went from seven wins in Williams' first season as head coach in 2016-17, to 21 last season.

Matching those 21 wins won’t be easy, with Williams noting the Huskers have a challenging nonconference schedule that includes games against Louisville, Creighton and Drake, and the return to an 18-game conference schedule instead of 16, but that’s what the Huskers will attempt to do.

Nebraska returns its top five scorers from last season in Hannah Whitish, Maddie Simon, Taylor Kissinger, Kate Cain and Nicea Eliely.

That group was joined in June by a four-player freshman class that was ranked No. 20 in the nation by ESPN. The freshmen are guard Sam Haiby and forwards Leigha Brown, Kayla Mershon and Ashtyn Veerbeek. The other newcomer is graduate transfer point guard Kristian Hudson.

When practice began there was a major emphasis on defense, after Nebraska lost some of its best defenders with the graduation of Jasmine Cincore, Janay Morton and Emily Wood.

“Our first couple of practices were camp defense, so no offensive drills at all,” Williams said. “One of my newbies said, ‘Coach, you didn’t tell me about camp defense before we signed that letter of intent,’ and I said, ‘That was absolutely on purpose.’”

With only 11 players on the roster, Williams has told the four freshmen that they need to be prepared to play early in their college career. Veerbeek and Mershon have the potential to help the Huskers with rebounding, Williams said, which was a weakness in some games last season.

Nebraska will play an exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney on Nov. 3, and then start the regular season at home against Drake on Nov. 7.

Cain ready for Year 2: Cain, a sophomore center, had a great first season, when she made the Big Ten’s all-freshman and defensive teams. She shattered the school record with 100 blocked shots, and also averaged 9.9 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds.

Williams thinks Cain can be even better this season, and Cain has made a goal of having fewer games where she doesn’t play as well.

“Not only do we have Kate Cain in the middle, we have a Kate Cain that has been working her tail off all offseason, and she’s gained a lot of strength and a lot of confidence,” Williams said.

Newcomer one of team’s leaders: Two of the team’s leaders are Simon and Whitish, who are now in their third year of playing for this coaching staff, but Williams said Hudson has also become a leader since arriving in Lincoln this summer. She joined the Huskers as a graduate transfer, after being a three-year starter at Florida International.

“To be quite honest, our most natural leader is Kristian Hudson,” Williams said. “She’s a graduate transfer and it’s her first year at Nebraska but she’s played a lot of minutes of college basketball, and she naturally has incredible leadership skills.”

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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