LINCOLN — Tai Webster offered a quick answer when asked what he can do as a senior to become a bigger part of the Nebraska team.
“Mainly consistency,” said the guard from New Zealand.
That’s also the right answer, according to coach Tim Miles, who officially started practice Monday with his fifth team.
Webster’s first two seasons at Nebraska were marked by as many steps backward or sideways as forward. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard improved to where he more than doubled his previous year’s scoring and rebounding averages to 10.1 and 4.1.
But it wasn’t until the final four games in March that Webster really found his groove. He had:
» 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three blocks in a loss at Northwestern.
» 18 points, five rebounds and four assists in a Big Ten tourney win over Rutgers.
» Nine points, six rebounds, three steals and no turnovers in a tourney upset of Wisconsin.
» 17 points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a tourney loss to No. 18 Maryland.
Webster’s statistical line from those games: 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 58.3 percent field-goal shooting and 50 percent 3-point shooting. So why the strong finish?
“It was more that the opportunity became available to show what I was capable of,” Webster said. “But also our back was against the wall at the end of the season. I wanted to go out and leave it all out there.”
Now, as a senior, Webster said he wants to play every game with such urgency.
Nebraska needs him to. He is the only double-figure scorer returning from a team that went 16-18 overall and 6-12 in Big Ten play.
The Huskers knew after last year they would lose senior Shavon Shields, who was the league’s No. 5 scorer at 16.8 points a game. The unexpected came when Andrew White, the Big Ten’s No. 6 scorer at 16.6, left in late June as a graduate transfer to Syracuse.
Becoming a primary offensive weapon “is on my mind quite a bit,” Webster said.
“First and foremost is winning,” he said. “Whether that’s due to increasing scoring on my behalf or staying where I’m at … whatever it takes to win.”
Webster has shown in international play that he can score when asked.
Last summer, he averaged 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds a game for the New Zealand National Team in an Olympic tournament qualifier. He was the youngest player on the roster. The summer before, on Nebraska’s exhibition trip to Spain, he was the Huskers’ most consistent player, averaging 11.8 points and 2.5 rebounds.
In the summer of 2014, Webster played for New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup, earning high praise in helping his team to the round of 16. He had four points in a loss to an NBA-heavy United States team that went on to win the event.
For some reason, Webster’s international success hasn’t been duplicated in the American college game.
“It’s a completely different game to me, the international side to the college side,” he said. “I’m just trying to perfect the college side. I’ve shown what I can do on the international side.”
Is there a primary adjustment to make for college success?
“It’s definitely a lot more to do with athleticism on this side,” Webster said.
Webster is the lone senior among Nebraska’s 11 eligible scholarship players. There are three juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen. James Palmer, a junior transfer from Miami, is practicing but can’t play in games for a year. One scholarship this season is unused.
Two prime newcomers — 6-8 freshman wing Isaiah Roby and 6-3 junior guard Anton Gill — spent most of Monday’s practice rehabbing injuries. Miles has said he won’t insert Roby (stress reaction in pelvis) or Gill (chronic knee pain) into full practices for two weeks.
Webster, who missed most of the summer while playing overseas, said he likes the new guys.
“I’ve yet to see Roby, but I’m real excited. I’ve heard nothing but good things,” Webster said. “And Jordy has been great. It’s real different playing with someone who is that big and taking up all that space.”
Gill is a scorer, Webster said. The Louisville transfer averaged 28.2 points at Hargrave Military Academy, including a school-record 56-point game.
“It’s just comes natural to him,” Webster said. “He’s got a whole plethora of moves. He’s a real exciting player, and I think Husker fans will enjoy him a lot.”