LINCOLN — Connie Yori held an invisible video game controller in her hands — or maybe it was a smartphone — while weaving the current weaknesses of the Nebraska women’s basketball team into a succinct social commentary.
“Some of it’s generational,” Yori said Wednesday. Kids don’t talk as much, or as clearly, as they once did, and when NU’s whole defensive scheme is built on communicating switches and screens, Facebook and Twitter can be a silent enemy against the tide of Husker hoops.
“Blame it all on technology,” Yori quips.
It’s a joke. Sort of. She really does want Nebraska players to talk more — on offense, on defense — in the heat of the game. Along with injuries, poor communication has been one of the key obstacles for NU to overcome this year.
“You’re clear,” Yori said. “You’re concise. You’re loud. That is something you coach every single day. In every drill. ... That’s something no fan in America would notice.”
Said forward Jordan Hooper: “We’ve really gotten to an age where you don’t really sit down face to face and have a conversation with people.”
And since the Huskers’ best talker last year — Kaitlyn Burke — is the only key player who didn’t return this season, Yori has a dilemma. And Nebraska’s 12-5 record — 2-2 in the Big Ten — is not on the same pace as it was a year ago. Are the two related? The Huskers certainly seemed a step slow in Sunday’s 80-58 loss at Penn State.
They probably can’t afford the same tardiness Thursday against Illinois (9-7 and 2-2), an athletic, trap-happy squad that can force turnovers by the bushels — as in nearly 24 per game. The Illini use a matchup/man pressure defense that’s a kind of basketball version of Bo Pelini’s pass defense in football. Guards are passed from defender to defender, zone to zone.
In other words, Nebraska will likely have to talk just as well on offense as it does on defense.
Here’s how forward Emily Cady described Yori’s ability to coach chatter in practice: Yori and coaches monitor drills, looking for the clear/concise/loud model behavior. If Yori doesn’t like what she sees, she stops the drill.
The louder a player talks in practice, Cady said, the louder they’ll be in the game. Then it’s a matter of remembering what to say and when. Which also hasn’t been consistent.
“Our whole team struggles with it,” Cady said. “It’s not one particular person.”
When Nebraska’s been right this season — impressive road wins over South Florida and Indiana and stretches of the double-overtime loss to Purdue at home — its defense clogged passing lanes and pressured the point, and supporting players hit the frequent open shots produced by defenders collapsing on NU’s top scorers, Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore.
But when the Huskers have been off — a loss at South Dakota State, the final 25 minutes of the loss at Penn State — they force shots, stop attacking the basket and aren’t strong in protecting the ball. The Lady Lions had 13 steals Sunday. Yori joked about NU’s “platter offense.” As in: “Go ahead and take it.”
Cady was one of the few Huskers who didn’t wilt against Penn State. She finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in the game and is averaging a double-double — 12 points and 11.3 rebounds — in Big Ten play. Yori’s prodded the sophomore from Seward to look more for her shot and less for the extra pass.
“We’re starting to get the old Em back,” Moore said.
The team’s lone senior, Moore wants to see Nebraska gain some momentum after alternating wins and losses in league play. Last season, NU started 4-0 in the Big Ten.
“Confidence is such a fragile thing,” she said. “It can be built up over a couple weeks and it can get crushed in one day. We can get our confidence back. We can get our Nebraska swagger back. I don’t doubt it for a second.”
Ľ NOTES: NU guard Brandi Jeffrey is questionable with a foot injury. She’s listed as day-to-day and could be available to play. ... Illinois coach Matt Bollant is in his first year after leaving Wisconsin-Green Bay. Bollant had recruited NU guard Sadie Murren to play at UWGB, but Murren decommitted after Bollant left and signed with the Huskers. ... Moore leads the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4-to-1) and needs two more assists to reach 600 in her career. ... NU leads the all-time series with Illinois 4-2, including a 67-47 win over the Illini last year in Champaign.
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