Later that evening, Coach Tim Miles and the Nebraska men's basketball team will host Florida Gulf Coast at 8 p.m. It should be an amazing, memorable day for all Husker fans, the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska.
Is this the greatest era in the history of Nebraska women’s basketball? It would be hard to argue against it. The Huskers enter the season with their highest preseason ranking in program history (12th in the coaches’ poll) and are picked to win the Big Ten Conference. Four starters return from a team that won the second-most games in school history last season (25) and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the second time in the past four years.
Senior two-time All-American forward Jordan Hooper is a candidate for the Wade and Wooden National Player-of-the-Year awards, a nominee for the Senior CLASS award and was picked as a preseason All-Big Ten first-teamer. She’ll join veterans Emily Cady and Hailie Sample in the starting lineup. Those two juniors have started every game of their Husker career and both are expected to draw their 68th straight start Friday.
Sophomore point guard Rachel Theriot is slated to assume point guard duties, and is looking to build on a Big Ten All-Freshman season that saw her dish out over 100 assists.
No. 25 UCLA earns the distinction of being the first regular-season opponent for Nebraska in the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Bruins narrowly missed winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament title last season, falling 51-49 to Stanford. UCLA defeated Stetson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Oklahoma in round two. They fashioned a 26-8 overall record last season, including a 14-4 mark in Pac-12 play.
The Bruins lost three outstanding forwards due to graduation and it will be difficult for them to replace players with the skills of Markel Walker, Alyssia Brewer and Jasmine Dixon. They also lost their best perimeter defender with the graduation of Mariah Williams.
Unfortunately for UCLA, they have already lost two players who were expected to be major contributors for them this fall. Kori Korver, cousin of former Creighton star and current Atlanta Hawk Kyle Korver, injured a knee in the preseason and will have to sit out the entire 2013-14 campaign. Kacy Swain was one of the few Bruins with size and experience on this year’s roster, and she also was lost to injury during fall camp.
The Bruins have three other players who have been slow to return to form after suffering injuries last season. Junior forwards Rhema Gardner and Corinne Costa and redshirt freshman Lauren Holiday failed to see action in UCLA’s 66-57 win over Vanguard last Thursday night. Holiday’s brother, Jrue, plays in the NBA for the New Orleans Pelicans. UCLA is also not expected to have the services of 6-2 freshman forward Paulina Hersler until the start of Pac-12 play due to injury.
Expect the Bruins to rely heavily on 5-11 sixth-year senior forward Atonye Nyingifa (uh-TONE-yay YING-gee-fuh). The undersized forward led the team in scoring (11.6 ppg) and minutes and was third in rebounds (7.1 rpg). Nyingifa posted a 19-point, 16-rebound effort in the exhibition game win over Vanguard last week, including 10 offensive boards. She was of only seven UCLA players to appear in the game.
Thea Lemberger, a 5-7 senior point guard, started 24 games last year but did not start any of the final six games. A veteran player who has 53 career starts, Lemberger averaged 8.6 points per game last season.
Luiana Livulo, a 6-3 junior transfer, has considerable playing experience in international competition for her native Portugal and comes to UCLA after transferring from Northwest Florida State junior college. She had 13 points and six rebounds against Vanguard.
Sophomore Nirra Fields returns after providing the Bruins a quality option off the bench last year. The 5-9 guard had the team’s single-game high-scoring output with a 26-point effort against Princeton. She averaged 7.8 points per game last season.
Madeline Brooks rounds out UCLA’s probable starting lineup. The 5-8 junior wing is a former walk-on who played 35 minutes against Vanguard last week and failed to score.
Two intriguing players off the UCLA bench are freshmen Dominique Williams and Savanna Trapp. Williams’ twin sister Danielle is a first-year player in the Big Ten at Michigan and was part of a St. Mary’s (Phoenix, Ariz.) High School team that won the national championship in 2011-12. Nebraska fans may recall former Husker Nicole ‘Tiny’ Neals also played for St. Mary’s as a prep athlete.
Trapp is the tallest player (6-9) in UCLA history. She had been expected to redshirt this season, but with the injury situation, Trapp may see playing time against Nebraska. She had three points and one rebound in 12 minutes of action against Vanguard last week.
Third-year UCLA Coach Cori Close was a long-time assistant at many schools, including UC Santa Barbara, her alma mater, UCLA and Florida State. She took over the Bruins program after Nikki Caldwell left for LSU.
UCLA leads the all-time series with Nebraska 4-1, including a win in its only other trip to Lincoln. The Bruins beat the Huskers 72-63 in 1979. However, Nebraska defeated UCLA in the last meeting between the two teams, 83-70 in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis.
I cordially invite you to join Jeff Griesch and me for Nebraska women’s basketball on the Husker Sports Network. Our radio broadcast Friday begins with the pre-game show at 11:30 a.m. (central) with the tip-off scheduled for 12:05 p.m. on the Husker Sports Network, including KBBK (B107.3) in Lincoln, KFFF 93.3 in Omaha, KHAS 1230 in Hastings, KBRB 1400 in Ainsworth KNEB 94.1 in Scottsbluff and KCOW 1400 in Alliance. All Husker women’s basketball broadcasts are also available for free world-wide on the internet at www.huskers.com. I hope you can join us.
There are a number of ways to get enhanced information about our broadcast and Husker women’s basketball via social media. You can learn more about the team on the Nebraska Women’s Basketball Facebook page or follow the team on their official Twitter page @huskerswbb. I also invite you to friend me on Facebook (Matt Coatney) or follow me on Twitter @coatman1.
Go Big Red!