LINCOLN — Nicea Eliely collected the most points, rebounds and steals in Nebraska’s 63-49 win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Sunday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
And the most bling after the game.
The 6-foot-1 senior forward from Colorado Springs wore two gold chains around her neck after the Huskers improved to 4-0. On one were the letters BMGP — Board Man Gets Paid. Eliely had 10 rebounds to go with 13 points for her second straight double-double, along with four steals, three assists and two blocked shots.
The other chain, featuring an image of a bulldog’s head, goes to the Top Dog, the player who makes the most effort plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“She doesn’t take a play off, offense or defense,” Nebraska sophomore forward Ashtyn Verbeek said. “It’s just a great example of leadership for all of us. It helps us try to follow and match her intensity.”
The Huskers don’t always succeed on that front, coach Amy Williams said, and again they scuffled early against a lesser opponent. After taking a 19-9 lead on three straight 3-pointers — one by Hannah Whitish and two by Leigha Brown — NU fell into a shooting funk that lasted the rest of the half. The Huskers missed 12 of 13 shots in the second quarter and scored four points as SIUE cut its deficit to 23-22 at the half.
SIUE coach Paula Buscher, who coached at UNO from 1998 to 2000, switched to a 3-2 zone after Nebraska’s early spurt, and Williams said the Huskers struggled even though they’d worked on it in practice. They grew tentative with shots, she said, after missing a few early in the quarter.
“You can’t let missing great shots change anything about the way we play the game,” she said. “That was our message at halftime: Stay confident, stay shot-ready and continue to move.”
SIUE took a 24-23 lead a minute into the third quarter, but the Huskers responded with a 13-2 run featuring two 3-pointers and a fast-break layup by Verbeek.
The 6-2 sophomore from Iowa’s Western Christian High, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds, is savoring time at the 4 position after sharing the 5 spot last season with junior Kate Cain.
“It allows me to take advantage when there are shorter girls guarding me down low,” Verbeek said. “And I can get out on the perimeter and shoot the 3s.
“I’m loving it.”
The Huskers again played without perhaps their best outside shooter, junior wing Taylor Kissinger, who missed her third straight game after suffering a concussion in practice. Freshman guard Trinity Brady also missed her third straight game while in concussion protocol.
The Huskers miss both, Williams said, but one thing she likes about her team is its ability to find different ways to win.
Whitish, her senior guard, grabbed a career-high nine rebounds Sunday to go with a team-high five assists. Brown chipped in 12 points off the bench and freshman forward Isabelle Bourne from Australia contributed four points and five rebounds in 13 minutes. The Huskers outscored the Cougars by 14 with Bourne on the floor.
“We feel like we’ve got some depth,” Williams said. “Even if one person’s maybe not having their best night, somebody else can spark us.
“You might be able to hold us down for a little while, but eventually we’re going to find a crack and be able to keep coming at you.”
Some of the loudest cheers from the crowd of 3,537 came at halftime, when some 30 former Huskers were introduced including members of the 2009-10 team, which went undefeated in the regular season, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet 16.
Fans gave big cheers to stars from that team like Kelsey Griffin, Lindsey Moore and Dominique Kelley. Their coach, Connie Yori, also returned, and she received a standing ovation.
Yori, now an adviser to Creighton’s program, led the Huskers to seven NCAA tournaments in 14 seasons, including two Sweet 16 appearances, before resigning amid allegations of player mistreatment during Shawn Eichorst’s time as athletic director. Yori, who did not speak with reporters Sunday, denied those allegations.
Williams said her players got to meet members of the 2009-10 team at a banquet Friday night.
“It was just a fantastic weekend,” Williams said. “Some of the messaging they were able to give to our current roster, you can’t even begin to put a price tag on it.”
SIUE (1-3)................14 8 10 17—49
At Nebraska (4-0)....19 4 21 19—63
SIUE: Stallworth 3-7 3-4 9, Troeckler 4-11 0-1 8, King 4-16 0-2 8, Whitlock 2-3 4-4 8, Keith 3-6 0-0 7, Hall 2-2 0-0 4, Kinnard 1-8 1-2 3, Thatha 1-4 0-0 2. Akuen 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-59 8-13 49.
NU: Eliely 6-11 1-2 13, Veerbeek 3-7 2-2 10, Whitish 3-7 0-0 8, Haiby 3-7 1-2 8, Cain 3-6 0-0 6, Brown 4-11 2-2 12, Bourne 1-2 2-4 4, Hudson 1-5 0-0 2, Mershon 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 24-59 8-12 63.
3-points goals: SIUE 1-13 (Stallworth 0-2, King 0-3, Keith 1-4, Kinnard 0-1, Thatha 0-3), NU 7-28 (Eliely 0-5, Veerbeek 2-4, Whitish 2-6, Haiby 1-2, Brown 2-6, Bourne 0-1, Hudson 0-4). Rebounds: SIUE 32 (Kinnard 5), NU 45 (Eliely 10). Assists: SIUE 10 (Whitlock 3), NU 15 (Whitish 5). Totals fouls: SIUE 10, NU 14. Fouled out: Bourne.