For the Nebraska women’s basketball team, even the best players are going to spend a decent amount of time on the bench.
Each season is a little different, but an ideal style for Husker coach Amy Williams is to have 10 players play double-figure minutes per game, using different weapons on offense and playing high-possession games.
And Williams tells the players if they’re playing as hard as they need to, especially on defense and rebounding, they’re going to be so tired that they need to come to the bench for a rest.
“We talk about it kind of like a gas tank, and we don’t ever like their gas tank to get much below half full,” Williams said. “And once it’s getting to about that, then come over and let’s refuel that bad boy back up.”
Williams is starting her fourth season as Nebraska's head coach. In her first season, when the Nebraska’s strength was inside with Jessica Shepard, Williams adapted the offense to that style.
But last season, Nebraska had nine players average double-figure minutes, and this year should be Williams’ deepest team at Nebraska. Nebraska brings back its top seven players from 2018, when Nebraska had a 14-16 record, with those players averaging between 10 and seven points per game.
Williams wants to play a lot of players with impactful minutes because she doesn’t want players to have to conserve their energy when they’re in the game. And because it keeps players fresh and healthy during a long season, and if there is an injury, the next player up is prepared. Also, where the offense will go through is less predictable to the defense.
When Williams was an assistant coach early in her career at Oklahoma State and Tulsa, she saw how beneficial it was when teams played lots of players.
She also saw that style be successful when her husband, Lloyd, was a men’s head coach.
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“My husband was the head coach at Rogers State on the men’s side and his team spent eight weeks as the No. 1 team in the nation at the NAIA level, and he played 11 players double-figure minutes, and I’d never really seen that,” Williams said. “I didn’t have that luxury at the time, but I watched how all those kids were really bought in and I think that helped lead to some of our philosophies on that as well.”
Last season, Nebraska’s bench outscored the opponents bench a combined 950-492, and the fresher players were able to stage some fourth-quarter comebacks.
Williams is cautiously optimistic that the Huskers can play with another deep bench this season.
“Right now it’s really trying to stress with our team that there is not a substantial difference between starting lineups and bench players,” Williams said. “There’s several people that we feel like could and should be in the starting lineup that maybe won’t be. We may have to adjust what that looks like game by game and things like that, but that’s a really good thing. It means that in practice up to this point one day we’ll be very impressed by this player, and the next day somebody else is shining.”
This season guards Leigha Brown and Nicea Eliely, and forward Ashton Veerbeek are examples of players who play so hard that they exhaust themselves, Williams said.
She says what drives her personally for this season is always the same: She played for Nebraska.
“I think one thing that’s a real motivator for me is obviously always that I’m an alum, and this is my program, where I played and poured my blood, sweat and tears,” Williams said. “So I take a lot of pride in wanting to see it succeed.”
Specific to this year Williams wants to send the senior class -- including three players who stayed committed to Nebraska after a coaching change -- out with a good season, and get back to playing in the postseason.
“My motivation for this year is to be able to watch that senior class, and to be able to go out on a positive note and know that they have made their mark on this program,” Williams said.