LINCOLN — First, Nebraska sophomore forward Emily Cady had to run the floor with a tissue stuck up her nostril to stop a bleeding nose. Later, she fell into the knee of a cameraman underneath the basket.
Those were about the only hard knocks the Nebraska women's basketball team suffered Sunday. Everything else: Big smiles and big cheers from the season's largest crowd. The Huskers extended their winning streak to four in a 80-56 rout of slumping Minnesota.
“The confidence level is definitely coming around,” said junior forward Jordan Hooper, who efficiently scored a game-high 27 points.
Coach Connie Yori agreed: “We're playing closer to our potential.”
Pick a stat, and it likely shined favorably on Nebraska. A 31-7 edge in points off turnovers, 34 points in the paint, 11 steals, 18 assists, a 15-6 edge in free throws. The Huskers held the Big Ten's leading scorer, Rachel Banham, to 11. Banham sat during the closing minutes, frustrated by Nebraska's newly devised pressuring zone.
The Gophers trailed by six early in the second half, but self-destructed in a flurry of turnovers, offensive fouls and hurried shots at the basket. The Huskers, meanwhile, had three big scoring runs — 11-2, 11-2 and 14-2 — sparked by freshman guard Rachel Theriot, who finished the game with 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and zero missed shots from the floor.
“She adds an extra dimension to our offense,” Hooper said.
At one point in the first half, it appeared Theriot would have to run the team as guard Lindsey Moore limped the locker room with an apparent injury. A crowd of 6,953 at Devaney Center got quiet. Moore has never missed a start in four years.
But she quickly returned, scoring two baskets in the lane to contribute to the first 11-2 run. She finished with 12 points and seven assists, one of five Huskers to score in double figures.
But with Nebraska leading 18-16 midway through the first half, it was Theriot who drained a 3-pointer to start that two-minute run. NU (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) led 38-30 at halftime.
Minnesota (14-9, 3-6) cut the lead to 40-34 at the 18:04 mark. A Theriot baseline jumper triggered another 11-2 run. The Huskers took a 51-36 lead on Tear'a Laudermill's 3-pointer at the 15:14 mark. The Gophers never got closer than 13 after that.
Nebraska's newly installed Princeton half-court offense looked just as good as its transition game. Because Minnesota repeatedly switched defenders on picks set by Hooper, the junior from Alliance rolled right to the hoop after her screens, catching soft, well-placed lobs from Theriot and Moore for layups. Hooper's frontcourt teammates — Cady, Hailie Sample, Meghin Williams and Katie Simon — got the same looks, but made 5 of 17 shots.
Even with those point-blank misses, the Huskers still shot 45 percent, thanks in part to Theriot hitting all five of her attempts and Laudermill's pressure defense, which started many of Nebraska's transition baskets. Laudermill extends NU's defense close to the half-court line, which delayed Minnesota's possessions and even forced an over-and-back.
“She's a luxury to have,” Yori said. “She is a gnat, no doubt.”
With the win, Nebraska moves into a tie for third in the Big Ten with Illinois, which beat the Huskers earlier this year. Northwestern, which hosts the Huskers Thursday, upset Iowa 67-65 Sunday. The Wildcats split two games with Nebraska last year.
“They've good players — they're talented,” Yori said. “Playing there will not be easy.”
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