LINCOLN — In honor of breast cancer awareness, pink whistles hung from the lips of the three referees working Thursday night's Nebraska-Ohio State women's basketball game.
Those whistles didn't get much of a workout. Neither did the nets at each end of the floor. This Valentine's box of chocolates tasted like bricks and floor burns. At least it resulted in an NU crush.
In a game that featured nearly as many missed shots (92) as combined points, the Huskers outslugged the Buckeyes 58-39 for their seventh straight league win. That's the second-longest conference streak in team history. And this chapter in the run, coach Connie Yori said, was written with defense, rebounding and elbow grease.
“We've gotten more committed to playing hard each possession,” Yori said. “Tonight our effort was really good. And smart ... the combination of us playing hard and playing smart was really the difference.”
Said senior guard Lindsey Moore: “That's one of the first games where we played a complete game and played really hard for a full 40 minutes.”
Moore also called the game “fun.” Yes, that. Fluid and crisp, the game was not. But Yori chalked that up to Nebraska and OSU having good defensive plans, and sticking to them.
For the Buckeyes (14-11 and 4-8), Yori said, that meant taking away Moore and leading scorer Jordan Hooper. They normally combine for 35 points. Thursday, Moore scored 14 and Hooper just eight.
But NU (19-6 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten) got nine points each from Ohio native Rachel Theriot and Tear'a Laudermill. And sophomore forward Emily Cady, who drew the biggest cheers of the night, finished with 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds against Ohio State's big-but-lumbering front line.
The Huskers, meanwhile, wanted to force OSU guards into challenged shots while denying the big post players point-blank looks. It worked. Ohio State hadn't scored this few points in the 11-year tenure of coach Jim Foster.
“Didn't make shots,” Foster said acerbically when asked what stood out about the game. Pressed to elaborate, he said All-Big Ten guard Tayler Hill — who scored 20 points but took 22 shots to do it — probably tried too hard at times to make plays.
“But I understand why she did that,” Foster said. “And I empathize with her.”
For most of the first half, it appeared Ohio State — which shot 25.4 percent for the game — might keep the game under 40 points and win. The Buckeyes controlled the tempo and the glass. But as NU went on a 9-4 run to end the first half, and then a 15-4 run to start the second half, Cady picked up key boards and hit several shots to put OSU in a hole from which it couldn't crawl out.
Cady's quickness helped her snatch loose balls and wayward shots before Buckeye centers Ashley Adams and Aleksandra Dobranic could get to them.
“She has that look in her eye like 'no one's going to stop me,' ” Yori said.
Once NU had taken a 45-31 lead with 8:26 left, Moore battered a tired Buckeye defense with drives to the hoop. She scored seven straight points to push Nebraska's advantage to 52-34.
“The more and more they got tired, the more the drive lanes opened,” Moore said.
The win was Nebraska's fourth in less than a calendar year over Ohio State, and keeps NU in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten Conference, two games behind Penn State with four left to play. The Huskers host the No. 8 Nittany Lions to end the regular season. But Nebraska has to win out — and have PSU lose at least one other game — to have a shot at tying for the conference crown.
Yori said she doesn't focus much on it. She'll instead give her team Friday and Sunday off in preparation for next Thursday's game with Michigan, which is 1Ĺ games behind NU in the standings.
“I'm as stressed out on a seven-game winning streak as I am if we lost seven in a row,” Yori said.
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