Husker women open Amy Williams era with victory over UT Rio Grande Valley

Husker women open Amy Williams era with victory over UT Rio Grande Valley
Photo Courtesy: World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — After a sluggish first half against Texas Rio Grande Valley, Jessica Shepard delivered a much-needed spark for the Nebraska women’s basketball team 62 feet away from the basket.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore heaved the ball like a football, off her back foot, over two defenders and sank the shot at the halftime buzzer, sending the Huskers into the locker room up by nine points. The momentum from the long-distance shot carried over to the second half, when the Huskers scored the first 12 points to take control in a 71-53 season-opening win Saturday in the first round of the preseason WNIT.

“After giving up that offensive rebound on the free throw (with 29 seconds left), we were kind of down,” Shepard said. “To get something to get our minds off that and give us some momentum going into half, that was big.”

Possibly the two least surprised people in Pinnacle Bank Arena when the ball went through the net were Shepard and NU coach Amy Williams.

Shepard, who made her first career 3-pointer in the first quarter, said she knew the shot was good from the moment it left her hand. Williams said she sees her sophomore post make that shot almost every day.

“I don’t take any credit at all on coaching Jess to that half-court shot at the end of the first half that propelled that run,” Williams said. “She incredibly surprises me every day at the end of practice. She makes more than she misses on half-courters.”

Allie Havers scored five points during the run to start the third quarter, and she finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and also made her first career 3.

Despite the easy victory, Nebraska’s inexperience was evident. The Huskers finished with 21 turnovers and struggled at times against the Vaqueros’ full-court press. Shepard said the Huskers are playing better than they did in their exhibition game and continue to make strides.

“We worked on the pace on offense, and you saw that in the second and third quarters,” Shepard said. “Just because of how young we are, you’re going to see a lot more progression than you normally would with a team as the season goes on.”

Freshman Nicea Eliely earned her first career start and finished with nine points and four assists. She was also the main defender against Shawnte’ Goff. The WAC preseason player of the year finished with 19 points on 7-of-23 shooting.

Nebraska will host No. 24 Missouri on Monday night in the second round of the preseason WNIT. The Tigers defeated Abilene Christian 52-46 on Friday.

The win was the first as NU head coach for Williams, who played for the Huskers from 1994-98. The team gave her the game ball after the victory.

“I am pretty sure it will go on display somewhere in the office,” Williams said. “It is such an incredible honor to be back here, and I feel so blessed to be leading this group of young women.”

Texas Rio Grande Valley (0-1) ….. 10 14 12 17—53

At Nebraska (1-0) ……………………. 15 18 25 13—71

UTRGV: Kjartansdottir 0-6 1-2 1, Murphy 0-0 0-0 0, Peters 2-5 0-0 4, Turk 1-7 0-0 2, Goff 7-23 3-4 19, Villareal 2-4 0-0 5, Hyman 0-0 0-0 0, Graham 0-0 0-0 0, Havili 0-3 0-0 0, Savoy 3-10 0-2 6, Johnson 2-4 0-0 5, Van Tillburg 5-6 1-4 11. Totals 22-68 5-12 53.

NU: Shepard 6-15 3-3 17, Havers 3-9 3-5 10, Eliely 2-5 5-8 9, Ramacieri 2-4 0-0 6, Cincore 4-8 0-0 9, Cascio Jensen 0-4 0-0 0, Whitish 3-4 0-0 7, Wood 1-3 0-0 3, Mitchell 1-3 0-0 2, Simon 2-5 2-4 6, Washington 1-2 0-2 2. Totals 25-62 13-22 71.

3-point goals: UTRGV 4-22 (Kjartansdottir 0-5, Peters 0-2, Turk 0-5, Goff 2-6, Villareal 1-2, Savoy 0-1, Johnson 1-1), NU 8-22 (Shepard 2-2, Havers 1-3, Eliely 0-1, Ramacieri 2-4, Cincore 1-3, Cascio Jensen 0-3, Whitish 1-2, Wood 1-3, Simon 0-1). Rebounds: UTRGV 40 (Kjartansdottir 11), NU 51 (Shepard 15). Assists: UTRGV 8 (Peters 2), NU 19 (Eliely, Cincore 4). Total fouls: UTRGV 22, NU 18: Fouled out: Murphy. A: 4,405.

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