LINCOLN — Picture your living room with an entire women’s college basketball team — players, coaches, staff — sitting in it for roughly nine hours. After a loss. In Pullman, Washington.
That’s what happened when the Huskers’ charter plane needed repairs. The team sat and waited in a small room at the airport. That’s life on the road as a college athlete five days before Thanksgiving. Glamorous, huh?
“It was a session of tight team bonding,” coach Amy Williams said with a laugh.
College basketball players — veterans of the club and AAU circuits — are more used to constant travel than football players, so freshman forward Leigha Brown didn’t think too much of the waiting in tight quarters. She did wonder, when the charter plane was fixed, whether it was safe to fly.
“I was a little scared to take off,” Brown said.
Brown hasn’t been hesitant on the court, Williams said, playing each possession on offense and defense with the same intensity. Brown had arguably the best game of her career in Miami against Radford, when she scored 13 points and played solid defense off the bench in a 77-39 win.
The mettle of Brown and three other freshmen will be tested the next week in key road games at Louisville and Creighton. The No. 5 Cardinals (6-0) are Nebraska’s foe for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Huskers drew the Cardinals after the majority of an already-stingy nonconference slate was set.
Louisville just made it harder. The Cardinals have hit 50 percent of their shots this season — including 44.1 percent from 3-point range and 79.6 percent from the foul line — while averaging 10 steals per game. If Louisville has a weakness, it might be rebounding, where the undersized Cardinals just lost one of their best rebounding guards, Yacine Diop, for the season with an injury.
Nebraska (2-3) emphasized rebounding in the offseason and training camp. Williams designed specific drills to improve it. Thus far, NU has been inconsistent at best, allowing 14.6 offensive rebounds per game.
“We need to be a little more gritty and get all those 50/50 balls,” Brown said.
In Williams’ experience, her best rebounding teams didn’t need any drills. They were just tough, persistent and had a knack for doing it well.
“I’ve been a little bit surprised by (struggles) because we spent so much time in the offseason working on it and talking about it,” Williams said.
But she sees positive in her young team, too. Eight players — including Brown — average at least seven points per game.
Taylor Kissinger is hitting 66.7 percent of her 3-pointers but has been willing to turn down bad shots so teammates can get better looks. And freshman Sam Haiby — NU’s leading scorer at 11.4 points per game — has been effective getting to the basket.
“We don’t need someone to score 27, 28, 29 points per game,” Williams said.
And not all of the travel experiences have been bad. Five days after the long wait in Pullman, the team was in Miami for a tournament and the parents of Kayla Mershon, who have relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, hosted the entire team for Thanksgiving.
“Probably 40 people,” Williams said. “It was a lot of fun.”
The game will give Williams a chance to reunite with one of her coaches from her NU playing days, as Louisville coach Jeff Walz was a Nebraska assistant in Williams’ final season. Williams said she hopes former Husker coach Paul Sanderford — one of Walz’s mentors and Williams’ coach in 1998 — also attends the game.
Nebraska at Louisville
When: 5:45 p.m.
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM