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Don’t panic was Williams’ message to fans after slow start

December 6, 2018

LINCOLN — Nebraska women’s basketball coach Amy Williams stood Tuesday among several reporters, some of whom were clearly waiting for the Husker men’s coach, Tim Miles, to arrive for his chat.

A few seconds of silence passed. Williams waited for a question.

“Awkward!” she said, with a hearty laugh.

The coach has kept her humor in the midst of a 2-5 start that includes four road losses. NU lost 74-65 to rival Creighton on Sunday and welcomes undefeated Kansas to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday night. It’s not the start Williams wanted — and KU is no pushover — so questions of “what’s wrong?” have begun to percolate among the fan base.

Williams’ message: Don’t panic.

“The big thing everybody on the outside wants to look at is the record, and I think the challenge for us is to be able to say, ‘How are we playing?’ ” Williams said. “How are we going to get better so that, when it comes time for Big Ten play, we’re playing as good or better defensively as we were last year?”

Last year Nebraska went 9-4 in the nonconference season, which NU used as a springboard to a surprise NCAA tournament berth. That team was composed of players who clearly understood their roles within the team. There was a niche for a shot-blocker, a 3-point shooter, a defensive stopper, the gritty role player who knew the defense like a coach.

This season, NU’s four true freshmen are more talented than the seniors they replaced. Guard Sam Haiby is Nebraska’s leading scorer, in fact. But their collective potential points to larger roles currently inhabited by older players. As a result, some players try to do too much on offense and, perhaps, not quite enough on defense because they’re “hugged up” on their individual matchups, Williams suggested.

“We have a lot of freshmen who are really talented and capable of contributing to this team,” she said, “but they’re not 100 percent sure of how to do that in the flow of what we’re trying to do.”

Said senior forward Maddie Simon: “We have so much talent. It’s kind of figuring out what to do with it all.”

First things first: improving the defense. NU is allowing 73.4 points per game. Watching game tape this week, Williams said she wants defenders helping each other more often. Nebraska’s turnover rate, 16.3 per game, is too high as well.

Williams isn’t ready to juggle the starting lineup, although she said she reviews it on a game-by-game basis. Statistics show NU’s problem quarter is the second, where the Huskers are getting outscored by more than six points per game, so adjustments could be made there.

And she said she’s not worried about the off-the-court chemistry. The team gets along great, Williams said. On the court, she said, it’s about figuring out how to complement each other.

Simon is confident it’ll happen.

“We’re going to make it happen,” she said. “We’re not worried. It’s just a matter of time before all the pieces come together. We’re excited to keep working through it.”

The 6-0 Jayhawks, who lost 66-49 to Nebraska in Allen Fieldhouse last season, have seven seniors, four of whom are starters. The best of them, guard Jessica Washington, averages 17.8 points per game. She can score at the rim, from midrange and from 3-point range. She missed last season while recovering from a knee injury.

“She’s really a difference-maker,” Williams said. “They’re really, really good.”

Notes

» Nebraska has played Kansas 82 times, more than any other team in school history.

» NU will honor Karen Jennings Wednesday night on the 25th anniversary of her winning the Wade Trophy. Jennings, whose jersey is retired, was a first-team All-American in 1993 and is widely recognized as the best post player in Husker history.

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