The Nebraska women’s basketball team recently made a change to its starting lineup, it just wasn’t the change that some fans expected.
After 13 consecutive games with the starting lineup of Hannah Whitish, Nicea Eliely, Taylor Kissinger, Maddie Simon and Kate Cain, the lineup changed two weeks ago. That’s when freshman forward Kayla Mershon took Simon’s spot in the lineup.
In a rare occurrence, Nebraska’s two leading scorers, freshmen Leigha Brown and Sam Haiby aren’t starters, although there’s not a huge gap between their scoring production and the starters.
Brown averages 10.1 points per game, although that’s bumped up to 12.1 in Big Ten games. Haiby averages 10.0 points per game.
Not far behind in scoring is Kissinger, who averages 9.1 points per game and has made a team-best 42 three-pointers. Whitish averages 8.9 points per game, has a team-best 73 assists and was second-team All-Big Ten last season.
Any changes to the starting lineup may also take some of the Huskers’ better defensive players out of the starting lineup.
And while Nebraska coach Amy Williams isn’t happy with how the season has gone so far, with a 9-10 record coming off a NCAA Tournament season, she doesn’t view Nebraska having its top two scorers not starting as the problem.
“We view our team as a team that’s very balanced in scoring and can come at you a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “We love being able to kind of have those beasts off the bench, I guess. People that can really give you that punch. I think they’ve really embraced that role and have been taking that to heart.
“And they can be really aggressive offensively at the point that they find themselves in the game. It’s been really good. But we feel like we have a lot of different weapons that can come at you. For us it doesn’t feel unconventional. I’m quite sure there is probably not a lot of other teams that have that, but it's a luxury and we feel like that’s what makes our team special.”
Nebraska is in Madison, Wisconsin, on Sunday to play the Badgers at 2 p.m.
Nebraska is the only Big Ten team with two freshmen as its top two scorers, and the only team in the conference with its top two scorers coming off the bench.
Haiby still averages 21 minutes per game, and Brown averages 19 minutes. Williams feels strongly that each player is fine with their role on the team.
“I feel like we’re very fortunate to have players that have bought into team-first mentality, and they feel like if I can best come in when the other team is five minutes into the game and they’re a little bit fatigued, that’s my best chance to come in and make a punch,” Williams said.
Mershon’s best game since joining the starting lineup came in Nebraska’s 58-54 loss against Northwestern on Thursday. She scored five points and had seven rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist in 22 minutes.
“Kayla has provided in that starting lineup for Maddie Simon to have an opportunity to play a different role and be able to come in and be a little more relaxed and to be able to give us a spark with defense at a point in the game where we feel like maybe we need to add a little more experience into the lineup along with some of our freshmen that are rotating into the game at the same time,” Williams said.
“I think with Kayla we’ve been very pleased with the production she has been putting out. We’d sure like to see a few more rebounds or a few things like that, but she gets her hands on a lot of plays and makes a lot of deflections and has provided a good, solid defensive presence."