LINCOLN — It is not just hard to win a championship in the Big Ten, says Nebraska women’s basketball coach Connie Yori. “It’s hard to win just one game.”
In case you misunderstand her meaning, Yori repeats emphatically: “I mean, literally, every single game is hard to win. This is a very, very good women’s basketball league.”
That statement speaks to the toughness of the 12-member league where the Husker women got their baptism last year and is designed to get her team ready for the Big Ten grind. The Huskers’ second year in the league begins against Wisconsin at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at the Devaney Center.
Nebraska enters the game with a 10-3 record, a No. 19 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll and a No. 25 ranking in the Associated Press poll. Wisconsin, coming off a 67-40 loss at Miami, has an 8-5 record.
Yori and her senior leader, guard Lindsey Moore, emphasized the tough conference road the Huskers will face to match the success they enjoyed in Nebraska’s first Big Ten season last year. The Huskers’ 9-6 league record left them one win out of second place. They then lost in overtime in the Big Ten tournament’s title game.
Unlike last year, the Huskers cannot catch Big Ten teams by surprise in 2013. A year ago, the Huskers were young and unknown. But NU returns four starters from the team that had conference success and 24 victories overall.
“Last year we were a little bit more the hunter, and this year we’re a little bit more the hunted,” Yori said. “Certainly, based upon where we were picked in the preseason poll (19th), we are not going to get overlooked this year.”
Conference opponents certainly won’t overlook 6-foot-3 junior Jordan Hooper, who led the league in rebounding and was named to the all-conference team, or Moore, a second-team all-conference guard. Nor will they overlook Emily Cady, who was named to last year’s all-freshman team.
Hooper is averaging 19.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game going into Wisconsin. In her last four games, Hooper has averaged 29 points. She ranks in the top five among Big Ten players in rebounds, scoring, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage.
Moore is averaging 15 points and 5.5 assists per game. She also leads conference players with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and is No. 2 all-time in assists at NU.
Cady is averaging 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Rachel Theriot, a 6-foot guard, plays her first Big Ten games this week after she earned freshman of the week honors after scoring 12 points Saturday against Grambling.
Even with its experience, Nebraska still ranks behind Penn State, Northwestern and Iowa in starts registered by returning players from a year ago.
Moore said she believes the Big Ten has gotten better since last year, when seven of its 12 teams earned spots in the NCAA tournament.
“With that, we need to get better every day so we can match it,” Moore said. “With the Big Ten season, the intensity raises. The level of competition raises, so we need to make sure we’re going to bring it every day.”
The secret to conference success, Yori said, is consistency.
“We haven’t been very consistent to this point,” Yori said. “We’ve been an inconsistent practice team and an inconsistent playing team. We’ve got to become better at both of those things.”
The Huskers defeated Wisconsin twice in 2012, 75-69 at Wisconsin and 68-59 at the Devaney Center. With a win, the Badgers could match their total for victories from last year when they finished 9-20 in coach Bobbie Kelsey’s first season.
The Badgers are led by 5-9 junior guard Morgan Paige, who is among the conference leaders in scoring with a 16.9 average, and 6-4 Cassie Rochel, who averages 7.5 rebounds per game.
Nebraska will follow Wednesday’s Big Ten opener with another home game against Purdue at 1 p.m. Saturday.
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