HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Beating any team three times in one season is something of a rarity.
Pulling that off against a 20-win team like Iowa is even more of a challenge, but that's what the No. 21 Nebraska women's basketball team accomplished Friday in its Big Ten tournament opener at the Sears Centre.
The second-seeded Huskers used a 21-5 run bridging the first and second halves to break open the quarterfinal contest and breeze to a 76-61 victory against the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes.
The victory is Nebraska's 11th in 12 games and earns it a berth in the semifinals against Purdue at 4 p.m. Saturday.
So what's the secret against Iowa, a team the Huskers have beaten six times in the past 14 months?
“You know, I don't know if there's any one thing I can identify other than, you know, we just know we have to play well,” coach Connie Yori said. “It's fairly unusual to beat a team six times in a row as good as Iowa. We obviously feel good about that.”
Perhaps most important to Nebraska's chances of making a deep tournament run was the improved play of Jordan Hooper, who entered the game having shot 25 percent (17 of 68) in her last five games.
Hooper scored in a variety of ways, making 10 of 20 shots and finishing with a game-high 24 points. The junior forward tallied 11 points during the game-changing run.
“I've been kind of settling the past three or four games,” Hooper said. “(Coach) told me to get more easy baskets inside and take it to the hoop more, just get easier looks, and that'll open up my outside game.”
The Huskers swung the game in their favor just before intermission. Lindsey Moore (13 points, six assists) kickstarted the run with a nifty left-handed layup. And after Tear'a Laudermill and Hooper got inside for baskets, Rachel Theriot drained a 3-pointer with eight seconds left in the half for a 34-24 lead.
“You want to have momentum going into the half, and it was on our side,” Yori said. “And then we came out of the half and did a lot of good things to extend the lead, as well.”
One of those good things was rebounding, where the Huskers held a 44-30 advantage. And the team really crashed the offensive glass to open the second half.
Emily Cady and Hailie Sample combined for six offensive rebounds in the first 5:09 of the second half, and the Huskers made them count.
Nebraska had four on one possession that resulted in a layup by Sample and a 40-29 lead with 16:53 remaining.
“We kept getting the ball back,” Sample said. “We didn't give them the ball back for three or four minutes. That helped us extend our lead and make our run a lot better. They didn't have the ball, so they couldn't score.”
Moore followed that sequence with a steal in the backcourt and, after letting her surprised teammates join her back on the offensive end, she hit Hooper for one of her three 3-pointers, prompting a Hawkeye timeout.
The Huskers led by as many as 27 points in the second half before inserting most of their reserves. The cushion allowed Yori to rest players like Moore, who will be counted on to play heavy minutes the rest of the weekend.
“I thought the way the game played out is obviously advantageous for tomorrow,” Yori said. “Not only did we get some reps for some of our kids, but it gives some of the kids some confidence being on the floor.”
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