LINCOLN — Life after Lindsey Moore for the Nebraska women's basketball team wears hooded sweatshirts when she's indoors and talks softly in interviews.
As the No. 12 Huskers officially open Pinnacle Bank Arena with a special noon tip-off Friday against No. 25 UCLA, sophomore point guard Rachel Theriot wants her play to speak the loudest. It did during a decorated high school career in Cleveland, and it did at times last season as an off guard.
But her voice might have to rise a couple decibels, too — and not just because PBA is bigger than the Devaney Center used to be. At Nebraska, the point guard is a kind of quarterback. And what Moore, the four-year NU star who just won a WNBA title, used to bring to the table as a lead communicator will have to be performed, at least for now, by potluck, with Theriot supplying the main dish.
“Last year, I had more of a watching and observing type of role,” said Theriot, who averaged 6.2 points playing alongside Moore in a Sweet 16 season. “Now it's being put in my hands and I actually have to take charge.”
Coach Connie Yori doesn't want Theriot or returning All-Big Ten player Jordan Hooper to shoulder that load alone. Moore, a chipper-but-competitive soul for whom leading was like breathing, could move teammates around the floor with economy and force, especially in late-game situations. In two exhibition wins, that role was shared by several players — and not always successfully.
“Lindsey covered up a lot of our errors,” Yori said. “Those are things that are more noticeable now in our practices — and even in our exhibition games — than an average fan would know.”
Said starting forward Hailie Sample: “We need a director of traffic.”
So Yori has been harping on players — especially the 6-foot Theriot — to talk more in practice. This talking could be on offense — where NU's Princeton-style cutting scheme needs chemistry and passing precision — and on defense, as the Huskers rely on teammates telling each other how far they are from the paint so they can better face their assignments.
“If we would just talk to each other it'd make life so much easier,” forward Emily Cady said. “And we're not doing that right now. Hopefully we get better at it.”
Yori would like that improvement overnight. The Bruins, who lost three starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, still pose plenty of problems. UCLA outrebounded opponents by seven last season and led the Pac-12 in assists and steals. Though lead guard Markel Walker is gone, returning guard Thea Lemberger can steady the Bruins' offense. In the front court, UCLA is pairing a junior-college transfer with Atonye Nyingifa, who led the Bruins with 11.6 points last season. She also had 7.1 rebounds per game.
“We can be just as aggressive as they are and not worry about injuring anyone,” Cady said.
Said Sample: “We've just got to be more physical than they are.”
Can Nebraska hit shots? The Huskers were cold in an exhibition win over the University of Nebraska at Kearney, missing 20 of their 23 attempts from the floor. Players said the arena is starting to feel more like a home gym — even if a few of them got lost after Sunday's game trying to find the autograph zone.
For Theriot, a good start would be having the confidence to take the shots she occasionally passed up last season. She's the top returning backcourt scorer, after all.
“Now is the time to not so much be greedy but, when I have an open shot, I have to take it,” Theriot said. “If I don't, that's hurting the team in general.”
Ľ Notes: Yori expects 8,000 to 10,000 fans for the opener, which will include 4,000 middle-schoolers attending a UNL-sponsored sportsmanship-themed pep rally before the game. ... Sample said she worked all summer on her 15-foot jumper. ... Two of the Bruins' top reserves are out for the season with knee injuries, including Kari Korver, cousin of former Creighton basketball star Kyle Korver.
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Video: Game preview with coach Connie Yori: