LINCOLN — On one piece of paper is the season preview for the Nebraska women’s basketball team. Four starters, 10 letterwinners, 91 percent of the scoring and 93 percent of the rebounding return for a squad that finished 24-9 last year.
Coach Connie Yori would love to talk about that piece of paper. But another sheet commands her attention: the injury report.
“It takes me quite a bit of time to get through it and figure out who can go,” Yori said Monday.
One week before the Huskers’ first exhibition game, that report might as well be a butcher’s bill.
Just one projected starter — sophomore forward Emily Cady — practiced in NU’s Friday workout. Leading scorer and rebounder Jordan Hooper has missed two-thirds of Nebraska’s workouts. Sophomore perimeter defender Hailie Sample returned after missing the entire summer and fall conditioning. Both players had stress reactions/fractures in their feet that stemmed from playing four games in four days at the Big Ten tournament last March.
And now true freshman guard Rachel Theriot — a “phenomenal passer” who impressed Yori enough in early workouts to potentially bust into the starting lineup — has missed the last two weeks with a stress reaction in her foot.
“We’re just not where we need to be, largely because we haven’t been able to practice in a normal setting,” said Yori, who sarcastically dubbed herself “Polly Positive” during a 17-minute press conference. “The good news is if we can get healthy, I think we have a chance to do some good things. But we’re not to that stage yet.”
Nebraska needs to get there fast, Yori said. The “bear” of a nonconference schedule — featuring four road games and home tests vs. Maryland and Florida State — requires it.
So Nebraska’s tried to balance rest for players like Hooper with enough practice time to keep them sharp. Senior point guard Lindsey Moore, for example, battles “chronic inflammation” that Yori said shouldn’t keep her out of games, but does limit practice effectiveness.
Yori said she’s been “pretty gentle” with Hooper, who accounted for 25 percent of Nebraska’s shot attempts and 21 percent of its rebounding last year. In a previous interview, Yori said Hooper spent time off her feet successfully getting stronger in her upper body.
A greater concern for Yori: Can Nebraska play the full-court, pressure defense she prefers? The system needs significant guard depth to work, and while backups Tear’a Laudermill, Brandi Jeffery and Rebecca Woodberry have been relatively healthy, Sample and now Theriot have not. Another defensive stopper last year, Kaitlyn Burke, has graduated.
Theriot, a 6-footer from Cleveland, played the same kind of pressure defense for her high school club team, so Yori said she made a natural transition to Nebraska. Before her setback, Theriot had developed into the team’s second best guard, scoring better than Yori thought.
“Anytime you have a high expectation for a player and they come in and show you a couple things you didn’t know they had in their game, I think that’s very positive,” Yori said.
Other notes from Yori’s press conference:
ĽPenn State is the league favorite, Yori said, after winning the Big Ten’s regular-season crown last year. Yori said Purdue and Iowa will contend for the conference title, too. Nebraska could, she said, if it gets healthy.
ĽNebraska’s worked on better offensive ball movement and attacking the rim after a “young” and “impatient” team took a per-game average of 23 3-point attempts last year. Many of those shots came early into the shot clock.
“We shoot too many 3s and we shoot them too quick,” Yori said.
ĽNew assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller, who previously served as Saint Louis’ head coach, has brought “a different energy level” to practice, Yori said. Gray-Miller played college basketball at Michigan.
“She knows what head coaches go through in a lot of ways,” Yori said. “I think she’s done a great job of relating to our players.”
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