As Nebraska sophomore forward Hailie Sample talked to a reporter, a member of her family sneaked behind her to take a picture with a phone.
It was quite a weekend for Sample, a Flower Mound, Texas, native. She got to play in front of 30 of her family members, she got to beat Texas A&M, and she played one of the best games of her career on the biggest stage.
Ten points and 11 rebounds — how did that sit with her?
“I played pretty good, I think,” Sample said, chuckling. “It’s really exciting. I’m really proud that I could help my team so much.”
Twice Texas A&M cut Nebraska’s second-half lead to seven points, and twice Sample hit layups to push the back to nine — and keep the game out of the Aggies’ reach. Coach Connie Yori said both plays were a result of Sample getting smarter about how teams leave her open when point guard Lindsey Moore drives to the lane.
“If she can get to the rim, either Lindsey’s going to find her or she’s going to have a chance to get an offensive rebound,” Yori said. “She’s the one that most people leave open, and she’s gotten smart enough to know that ... she got those kinds of baskets today for us.”
More praise for Moore
A main topic of both teams’ postgame press conferences was the play of Moore, a senior Lieberman Award finalist who didn’t make first-team All-Big Ten, but is considered a first-round WNBA draft pick and of whom Yori said: “I wouldn’t trade her for anyone.”
“She’s tough to guard,” Yori said. “She is a really good one-on-one player and if you are a good one-on-one player — and you have the skills like she does — you are set up for success.”
Yori joked that she’d buy Moore a hamburger — a riff on the line A&M coach Gary Blair used back in 2005, when Nebraska beat the Aggies. Blair boarded NU’s bus and told the team to buy the Husker point guard a cheeseburger.
Blair didn’t replay that line Monday, but he had plenty of praise.
“We couldn’t press her,” Blair said. “On every inbound play within about seven or six seconds to go, the ball was in her hands. ... Moore is the whole key to the team.”
NU defense slows A&M
Nebraska knew Monday that, in order to slow down A&M post player Kelsey Bone, it would have to leave some shots open to A&M’s perimeter shooters. It was a trade Yori was willing to take, double- and triple-teaming Bone when she caught the ball.
The Aggies shot 47 percent, but also missed a number of mid-range jumpers. And A&M was only able to get six offensive rebounds, in part because guards took the shots so early in the shot clock — sometimes before Bone set up on the post.
“We have freshman wings, and sometimes they are very good and sometimes they are not,” Blair said. “Even if we made a shot, we have got to make the defense work. You have to see if there can be a foul called every now and then.”
In two games, NU’s opponents shot just three free throws total. Though the Reed Arena crowd called for more shooting fouls, referees repeatedly shook their heads in disagreement.
“We are not a team that fouls very much,” Yori said. “We’ve been playing a lot of position defense. Our kids are smart that way.”
Bone said after the game that she’d decide whether she’s declaring for the WNBA draft next week. Blair said he didn’t want “any more Kelsey Bone questions” after she answered a reporter’s question.
— Sam McKewon