COLLEGE STATION, Texas — She might be an All-Big Ten forward and one of the most prolific scorers in Nebraska women's basketball history. But Jordan Hooper usually needs a nudge or two — or three — to remember it.
As the sixth-seeded Huskers watched their first-round NCAA tournament opponent, Chattanooga, hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer, Hooper heard it from her teammates. Encouragement. Exhortation. Guff.
“I don't know if I can say it,” Hooper said when asked what was said to her.
But with 10 minutes left in the game and all of three points to her stat line, she finally got the message — and went on a tear.
Hooper scored 18 of NU's final 26 points — including three straight 3-pointers — to knock out the Lady Mocs 73-59 Saturday in front of 7,225 at Reed Arena. Nebraska advances to Monday's second round to play third-seeded Texas A&M, which routed Wichita State 71-45.
“That's Jordan Hooper,” coach Connie Yori said with a smile. “When she has that going, you want to run some stuff for her and give her the opportunity to shoot.”
Said Hooper: “It gives me a lot of confidence, that (Yori) has confidence in me. If she's going to put me in that position, I'm going to shoot it. If it doesn't go in, it doesn't go in. But if it does? That's pretty cool.”
The junior from Alliance, Neb., iced a game that had been a dead heat. No. 11 seed Chattanooga played fast, forced 15 turnovers and made 10 3-pointers to shoot Nebraska out of its matchup zone defense designed to limit Chattanooga's best player, 6-foot-3 center Ashlen Dewart. The teams went into halftime tied at 32. Aside from getting to the free-throw line, Nebraska (24-8 overall) had played tentatively.
“Coach said we looked like we had our tails between our legs,” said sophomore forward Emily Cady, who had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Behind a trio of 3s that had Yori pointing her chin and closing her eyes in disbelief, the Lady Mocs (29-4) took a 47-38 lead four minutes into the second half. Nebraska used a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 49-47.
Yori finally switched to NU's base man-to-man defense at the 10:50 mark, forcing Chattanooga coach Wes Moore to reorient his game plan on the fly. He said he couldn't draw up enough good plays, and Dewart, despite getting several touches, wasn't able to make shots or draw fouls. She finished with eight points on eight shots.
“Those timeouts — although they're a couple of minutes long — aren't quite the same as having 15 minutes at halftime,” Moore said. “Probably good that they held that a little bit. I'm just frustrated. They did a good job on Ashlen. Usually, against man defense, we're gonna spread you out and we're going to be able to get the ball inside. They did a great job of getting in front of her.”
Nebraska senior guard Lindsey Moore said that switch sparked NU's offense — which finished with 32 points in the paint — to get even more aggressive. After making a 3-pointer to give the Huskers a 50-49 lead, Hooper twice caught lobs over Chattanooga's defense for easy layups.
Those short bunnies, Hooper said, helped kick-start her perimeter shooting. She hits 3s at the 4:24, 3:30 and 2:34 marks, stretching a 62-59 lead to 71-59. The last of those 3-pointers bounced off the rim, then rolled in as Hooper held her shooting form at midcourt. Nebraska's streaky scorer finally had her hot hand, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Earlier in the game, Cady told Hooper to stop turning down open shots. She also said: I want you to score the next 15 points.
Nine in a row would have to do.
“She should have all this confidence, shouldn't she?” Cady said. “But sometimes you're on and sometimes you're off, and sometimes you need that boost from your team to get you on.”
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