Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Nebraska women's hoops, 12/2/17

Nebraska guard Nicea Eliely (5) drives between Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Alexus Bryson (left) and Shawntayla Harris during the second half Dec. 2 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Eliely scored 13 points in Nebraska's 73-52 win.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

Sometimes the straightforward comparison is the most appropriate, especially when considering where the Nebraska women’s basketball team was last year entering Big Ten play and where the Huskers are now, hosting No. 12 Ohio State on Thursday.

“It’s almost like night and day,” senior guard Jasmine Cincore said. “We’re going in with a better record and we’re playing some really good basketball. That builds confidence, and we’re ready for the Big Ten.”

The Huskers have already recorded two more wins this season than they had all of last season, and enter their matchup with the Buckeyes winners of five of their last six games.

Four players are averaging more than 10 points per game, including Taylor Kissinger’s team-leading 14 points per game, while the offense is averaging over 70 points per game, up from 62.8 last year. Kissinger has missed several games because of a knee injury.

“Part of our culture and philosophy is having different weapons that we can come at you with,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. “We want to be able to have a very balanced team. It’s more difficult to prepare for. For us, when we have multiple people scoring in double figures, we know that it’s been one of our best games and played our style.”

The uptick in offense has led to success defensively as well for the Huskers. They’re allowing just 63.4 points per game, down a staggering 13 points from last season.

Freshman Kate Cain is a big reason why. She's first in the Big Ten and third nationally with 50 blocks. With Cain inside, the Huskers now know they can be more aggressive around the arc, and it has led to better defensive production from the whole team.

“We’re getting more reps (defensively) and Coach is stressing defense a lot. We gave up way too many points last year and that lost us a couple games,” sophomore guard Hannah Whitish said. “Everyone has taken that to heart. When you play good defense, you get wins.”

The Huskers' defense will be handed a tough test Thursday. The Buckeyes enter Lincoln averaging more than 91 points per game, and have only been held under 83 points in a game once.

Senior Kelsey Mitchell, who is averaging 26.2 points per game and is likely to go high in next year’s WNBA Draft, will be Nebraska’s biggest test, but the Huskers won’t catch any breaks if they just focus on her.

Stephanie Mavunga and Linnae Harper are both averaging more than 15 points per game and are capable of taking over if a defense keys on Mitchell.

“We know they like to control the tempo, they play really fast and they have a lot of prolific scorers on their team,” Williams said. “One in Kelsey Mitchell, but they have lots of other upperclassmen that can put the ball in the basket. It’s going to take an incredible team effort.”

The Huskers host the Buckeyes at Pinnacle Bank Arena at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or scarlson@journalstar.com.

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