Written by Joe Gabbert
On Sunday morning, the temperature in Omaha was an even 0 degrees. In Carson, Calif., it was nearly 50. That, Taijhe Kelly said, is one of the biggest differences in moving here from Carson, Calif.
“The weather is totally different because its colder here than it is back there because we don’t even have a winter,” Kelly said.
Carson is a suburb of Los Angeles, the second largest city in the US right now with a population of approximately 15 million compared to a mere 900,000 in Omaha.
“The biggest difference [between the two] is it feels smaller. It feels like more people know each other.” Kelly said
Kelly is the UNO womens basketball center who right now is ranked eleventh in the country in blocked shots per game with 3.2. If that pace continues, she will be well on her way to breaking the school record for blocked shots in a season at 86. She is already at 68 at about two thirds of the way into the season. Last season, she ranked third in school history with a total of 74 and tied the school record for blocks in a game with seven.
Coach Brittany Lange described Kelly’s impact.
“She’s a really long, agile, athletic body, and she really prefers the defensive end. So she definitely changes the way we play in terms of her length and her ability to be a strong defensive presence and bother shots,” Lange said.
Kelly described her simple objective on the defensive end.
“Just try to rebound, box out and make sure they don’t score pretty much. Try to stop anyone that can get in the paint,” Kelly said.
Her offensive game has also seen a clear improvement this year as her scoring has nudged up from last year’s 4.9 points per game to 8.3 this season, with the team’s second best field goal percent at 51.5.
She also leads the team in rebounds per game at 7.1 and offensive rebounds at an impressive 3.1. All of this is in just 24.3 minutes a game.
“She dedicated her entire summer to staying in the weight room, working on her footwork, getting stronger and from that she’s really improved on the offensive end.” Lange said.
The Mavericks have given up 7 of 17 and 15 of 31 shooting from three in their last two games.
“You know that when she has someone one-on-one inside, she’s not going to need that help. She’s such a bother and long enough that they’re really going to have to maneuver around her in order to get a shot off,” Lange said.
Omaha begins the second half of the Summit League schedule on Thursday Feb. 6 at Western Illinois at 7 p.m.