MADISON, Wis. — Nebraska women’s basketball coach Connie Yori had a hunch her team would struggle to win Thursday night at Wisconsin, the second-worst team in the Big Ten.
She was right. The Huskers got the Badgers’ best punch and survived to win their 10th straight game, 55-53. Despite missing 15 of 17 shots from 3-point range. Despite another slow scoring night for junior forward Jordan Hooper. Despite trailing for most of the second half.
NU fought through all that, using a 7-2 run in the last three minutes to keep its hopes for a Big Ten title alive. That’s because Penn State, which has already clinched a share of the regular-season crown, lost 89-81 at Minnesota two hours after Nebraska won. One game ahead in the standings, Penn State will visit the Devaney Center at 5 p.m. Sunday to play one of the nation’s hottest teams — that’s happened to find a clutch gear, too.
“It would have been very easy to leave Madison as a losing team tonight,” Yori said on her postgame radio show. “Our kids — we were tough.”
Especially Nebraska’s senior-freshman tandem at point guard, Lindsey Moore and Rachel Theriot. Theriot scored eight of NU’s last 13 points. Her drive to the rim and layup with 1:43 left gave the Huskers (22-6 overall, 12-3 in the Big Ten) a 52-51 lead.
Wisconsin (11-17, 3-12) answered a half-minute later when Morgan Paige hit a jumper. That set up Moore — who will celebrate Senior Day Sunday — to do what she’s often done for the Huskers over four years: Finish with a flourish.
This time, Moore didn’t make the basket. She whittled the shot clock inside three seconds before drawing the defense to her in the lane and passing the ball to a wide open Hailie Sample, who hit a short layup just before the shot clock expired. Nebraska led 54-53 with 43 seconds left.
“That’s a play we work on all the time,” Yori said. “It’s nice to have a point guard who can make plays in late shot clock situations.”
Said Moore: “You know what? I trust Hailie with that shot right there, and she knocked it down.”
Paige missed a jumper for the Badgers with 28 seconds left. Eight seconds later, Hooper got a steal and passed to Moore, who was fouled with nine seconds left. She made one of two free throws. The Badgers rebounded and guard Tiera Stephen couldn’t hit a shot at the buzzer.
Nebraska won its sixth straight Big Ten road game. Four of those victories have been single-digit wins. Of those, Wisconsin was the toughest one to earn. Moore said the air in the Kohl Center was “freezing” and she struggled to keep traction with her shoes on the court.
Still, she led NU with 13 points and four assists. Theriot scored 11 points. Hooper and sophomore forward Emily Cady each had 11 rebounds.
That quartet — plus the rest of the Huskers — will now get a shot at a regular-season title that seemed unlikely after a sluggish loss to Illinois on Jan. 17. NU committed 25 turnovers that night.
But a 10-game winning streak — plus a little help from Minnesota — has Nebraska on its home court with one of its most-decorated players in history, Moore, playing her final home game.
Yori played prophet before the win over Wisconsin. And in her postgame radio comments — with Penn State’s game still in balance — she played it again.
“Senior Day. Last game at the Devaney. Huge game,” Yori said. “If we are playing for the Big Ten championship, you gotta think it’s one of the biggest games ever played in that building.”
Said Moore: “I don’t think they want to share it. So if we get a big crowd and get Devaney rocking, that’s the best thing.”