COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Welcome to shorts weather. The Nebraska women’s basketball team — playing its first-round NCAA tournament game Saturday at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena — may hardly know what to do with 80-degree temperatures.
“It’s warm,” sophomore forward Emily Cady said. “I think it’s snowing in Nebraska right now.”
The sixth-seeded Huskers wouldn’t mind extending their stay a few days. But that will take doing what they couldn’t last year in Little Rock, Ark. Beating the 11th seed.
Set up with a plum draw last season to reach the Sweet 16 in Des Moines, NU limped into the 2012 tournament with major injuries and lost to a Kansas team that had a detailed scouting report from their Big 12 games.
Southern Conference champion Chattanooga may have won 19 straight games — but it won’t have the advantage of knowing Nebraska’s players. And come tipoff at around 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2, NU will have the advantage of being healthy. No Jordan Hooper or Hailie Sample in walking boots. The 23-8 Huskers will try to advance to the second round for the third time in coach Connie Yori’s tenure at full strength.
“Last year we had a couple people injured so that kind of hurt us, but honestly, I think it is just going to make us better this season, just knowing how we felt last season and how much more confident we are entering this postseason,” senior guard Lindsey Moore said.
“Honestly, it’s good to have it in the back of our minds. We don’t want our season to end as early as it did last year, and that gives us motivation. We can play with confidence. Everyone is healthy, and we had that two weeks that we could get our health back if anything was lingering, so that was really good for us.”
If NU can translate that into a win, it would play a Monday game, likely against third-seeded Texas A&M, which plays No. 14 seed and Missouri Valley Conference champ Wichita State before the Huskers and Lady Mocs tip off.
The Aggies won the national title two years ago and just won their first SEC tournament title. A&M coach Gary Blair guarded against his team looking past the Shockers.
“That will be the first thing we talk about as a team,” he said. “If you do not have your A-game, if you walk out there on this court, you better be ready because the other team is playing with nothing to lose.”
Though a veteran of several NCAA tournaments, Chattanooga (29-3) hasn’t won a game since 2004, and falls into the category of having little to lose.
“Right now we get to be the hunter instead of the hunted,” UC coach Wes Moore said. “I think that is exciting to trade roles.”
Yori said the Lady Mocs’ diversity on offense — anchored by 6-foot-3 junior center Ashlen Dewart, who averages 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds — makes them a tough team to guard. UC isn’t afraid to launch 3-pointers the minute defenses double down on Dewart; it’s how it beat Tennessee — a No. 2 seed in the tournament — to start the year.
“They are a team that can really spread you out,” Yori said. “They have a great inside game and they’ve got great shooters so we will be challenged. There is no question about that. That Tennessee game was early in the year for them but they’ve played good basketball throughout.”
Said Lindsey Moore: “We just need to limit their inside post touches as much as possible and then rebound.”
Chattanooga can struggle to hit shots — 31 percent from 3-point range, and 65 percent from the foul line — which could be why coach Moore planned for his Friday practice inside Reed Arena to focus solely on shooting. The team practiced at home before it flew to College Station.
“I want energy and for them to be excited about playing and hopefully chomping at the bit to get out there,” he said.
Nebraska is champing at the bit to put an exclamation mark on the season — and Moore’s career before she heads to the WNBA draft.
“It means a lot to get a couple more games to play with her,” Hooper said.
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