LINCOLN — It's probably, on most possessions, a few feet or an extra pass. Subtle tweaks to the Nebraska women's basketball team's offense.
But those tweaks have a well-known name in basketball circles — “the Princeton offense” — and have had a positive effect on the Huskers, especially in their run to the Sweet 16.
“It's been really helpful, honestly,” junior All-Big Ten forward Jordan Hooper said.
NU's technical name for the high-post, cutting attack, point guard Lindsey Moore said, is “slice.” It might as well be “patience.” Coach Connie Yori switched from a true motion offense — like the one Husker men's coach Tim Miles employs — to more of a structured set to “basically demand a ball reversal,” Yori said.
That's because Nebraska wasn't doing much of it last season. Even as the Huskers averaged more than 70 points per game, they were shooting contested 3-pointers too quickly, Yori said, and not forcing the defense to work for an entire possession.
“We only had a handful of times all season where we got late in the shot clock,” she said.
Too often putting Hooper and Emily Cady in the low post created passing angles that Nebraska guards declined to take. They bombed away instead. The team shot 24 3-pointers per game in Big Ten play last season, and made 6.75 (28 percent) of them.
In 2013, NU took 20 3-pointers per game in Big Ten play, making 6.5 (32 percent). That's essentially the same 3-point offense with four fewer shots.
Where did the extra shots go? Mid-range jumpers by freshman Rachel Theriot off screens — she shot 46 percent in league play — and layups at the basket.
With Hooper and/or Cady operating out of a high-post set, Nebraska has been able to clear the baseline for backdoor passes and Moore's drive-and-dish plays that knocked out Texas A&M in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Occasionally, Hooper and Cady slip behind the fronting defense, catch a lob pass from Moore and get a point-blank look.
“We are a pretty good team at reading screens,” Moore said. “It's a good offense for us to be in, because it makes the defense really have to talk and it makes them have to figure out what they want to do on screens. And whatever they do, we adjust to that.”
In recent years, Moore said, Nebraska's motion offense could get “stagnant.” Though the motion system — popularized by former Indiana men's coach Bob Knight — theoretically has infinite variations depending on the defense, the Huskers' attack last season often resembled a game of cold potato, where Moore held the ball until some teammate made a vague move resembling a cut.
The Princeton system gives Hooper, Cady and others more of a clear directive. It can also burn overplaying, aggressive help defenses by hitting passes behind them. When Moore drives, teammates “rip to the baseline,” Hooper said, and go to the basket.
If the post helps on Moore, she passes to a cutter. If not, Moore generally gets to the basket, where she has repeatedly finished layups.
In the win at A&M, Moore made three layups and four free throws off of fouls on layup attempts. Then, at the end of the game, she twice hit sophomore forward Hailie Sample for layups when Aggie center Kelsey Bone slid over to help on defense.
A&M coach Gary Blair told Bone not to help, but considering Moore had already scored 10 of her eventual 20 points on plays at the hoop, that was advice easier said than taken.
“We knew that we'd see pressure defense, so we knew putting in this offense and lifting everyone high was going to be a really good thing for that,” Moore said. “We just had to have the mindset that we're going to back cut, and as a passer you just have to be patient.”
NOTES: Yori said in an interview Friday that Nebraska had two good days of practice Wednesday and Thursday in preparing for Duke. The Huskers practiced again Friday in Lincoln before leaving for Norfolk, Va. The Huskers will be the last team Saturday to hold their press conference (2:45 p.m.) and practice (3:30) at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
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