LINCOLN — Nebraska guard Tear'a Laudermill probably didn't intend to coin a phrase about how she plays defense. But her description suits a 10-second radio spot.
“Full speed, hungry shark smellin' blood, go-after-em, go-get-em,” Laudermill said with a big smile after the Huskers' 80-58 rout of Minnesota.
NU coach Connie Yori shortened the sales pitch to a nickname for the 5-foot-9 sophomore.
“She is a gnat,” Yori said.
The gnat has played a key role in a five-game winning streak that has Nebraska back in the thick of the Big Ten race. Though Yori's switched part time to a zone defense to protect a relatively thin roster, Laudermill still is the Huskers' “hound” in the defense, extending her pressure to mid-court.
Opposing guards aren't fond of it, Laudermill said. She can tell when she gets in their heads. And she can tell when she's still in their heads after a game, when they glare during the postgame handshake.
Laudermill and NU would like a few more looks like that Monday night, when the Huskers head to Iowa for a 7:36 p.m. game on the Big Ten Network.
The Hawkeyes are on a three-game losing streak. They also lost three straight to Nebraska last season. They're also one of the more guard-driven teams in the league — four of their top five players in points play from the perimeter.
That means Laudermill — who had a limited role in NU's 55-50 win against bigger, poorer-shooting Northwestern — will be used when Yori wants to create a surge on defense. It's a job that Laudermill had to grow into — she averaged nearly 17 points per game in high school — but now embraces.
“I couldn't care less about points,” she said. “To me, defense, that's what motivates me. Defense is all what I'm about. I know if I play defense, it'll lead to my team getting picks, getting steals, and that makes me happy.”
When Yori was recruiting Laudermill out of Riverside, Calif., she saw the kind of player who could successfully follow Vonnie Turner. Turner, who signed a WNBA contract Friday, was the 2010 co-Big 12 player of the year and is fifth on NU's career steals list.
“There's a lot of overlap of those guys,” Yori said. “Same kind of quickness and speed. Those guys are about the same place in their career as a second-semester sophomore.”
That is, expect Laudermill — who averages 5.7 points in 18 minutes per game — to develop as a collegiate scorer as she gets older. Right now, she's streaky, hitting or missing jumpers in bunches, and rarely being shy about taking those shots.
When Laudermill's on the floor, Yori will even tell her guard to calm down or slow down a little. But she doesn't want to curb that energy too much. It's what gets in the opponents' heads.
“Speed is the first thing — T's one of the fastest players in our league — but you also have to have a tenacity about you,” Yori said.
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