LINCOLN — Connie Yori does not believe in a eureka moment. At least not with her Nebraska women's basketball team. The Huskers try to start another Big Ten tournament run at 11:30 a.m. Friday when they tip off in suburban Chicago against No. 7 seed Iowa.
Two months ago, NU was squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble — priming itself for a pop — after it started 2-3 in Big Ten play.
Now the Huskers are the No. 2 seed in the league tournament and owners of a recent 10-game winning streak that catapulted them into the four- to six-seed range for the NCAA tournament. They try to start another Big Ten tournament run at 11:30 a.m. Friday when they tip off in suburban Chicago against No. 7 seed Iowa.
And Nebraska expects to make a charge like did it last season, when it advanced to the tourney final. As All-Big Ten forward Jordan Hooper puts it, “We're in a really good place.”
How did Nebraska get there?
“There's never really one incident that happens and it's like, oh, that turned it on,” Yori said. “It's not simple. That's what people want to hear. Snap the fingers, fix it.”
But NU players say they did, in fact, have a distinct turning point: a players-only meeting at Minnesota where, senior guard Lindsey Moore said, the Huskers reviewed their goals and dissected why they weren't achieving. Their conclusion?
“We weren't having fun,” Moore said. “Nebraska basketball doesn't work if we're not having fun. So we wanted to get back to being positive with one another. During games, during practices, anywhere we can.”
Here's the power of positivity at work: NU routed the Golden Gophers 84-63, playing with a pace and style it hadn't shown in Big Ten play. A few days later, Moore said, Yori approached and asked: Where did that performance come from?
“I was able to tell her the gist of our meeting — what we decided — and why we played so well and had so much fun at Minnesota,” Moore said.
Yori hadn't liked the way NU was practicing before that game — too many mistakes, not enough attention to detail — and saw it as a carryover from last year, when the mistake-prone Huskers won a number of games in improbable ways.
She told the Huskers they were “living in a fantasy world” if they thought they were league's best practicing team — a goal of Yori's — and they weren't sneaking up on any opponents in 2013.
“We were a little bit more of the hunted this year,” Yori said. “And so we weren't getting overlooked. And people were bringing their best game against us. It was a little bit of a wake-up call for us.”
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Nebraska's sloppiness frustrated Yori, who believes good practices win games. And Moore said that she reminded the team of it.
“But we weren't focusing on what she was saying,” Moore said. “We were looking at how she was saying it. The 'Omigosh, she doesn't like me.' We needed to hear what she was saying and then move on and still get excited for each other.”
Yori heard that, Moore said, and vowed to be more positive in practice herself.
A switch in defensive philosophy from pressure-man to more of a man-zone approach helped, Yori said, but she did see an improvement in the team's “focus on the details.” Freshman Rachel Theriot has improved alongside Moore, and sophomore forward Emily Cady has become a more aggressive rebounder on both ends of the floor, Yori said.
Hooper said NU's chemistry is clicking. Even with a loss to top-seeded Penn State on Sunday, the Huskers have found an identity.
“We realized that we have things we want to do this year and to do those, we're going to have to focus, we're going to have to become a better practicing team, all this stuff,” Hooper said. “And I think the coaches saw that and started feeding maybe off our energy and we started feeding off their energy.”
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