LINCOLN — Nebraska turned crisp passing into basket after basket Saturday and drubbed Michigan State 76-56 to the delight of 7,915 women’s basketball fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The 20-point margin served as payback for a 70-57 defeat the Spartans handed the Huskers in East Lansing a month ago.
“They did to us what we did to them,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.
The loss dropped the Spartans to 8-3 in the Big Ten and ended their four-game winning streak. Nebraska moved to 7-3 and extended its winning streak to four games. Both teams remain in striking distance of league leader Penn State (8-2).
What Nebraska (17-5) did was turn a 14-6 deficit into a 28-14 lead by scoring Michigan State 22 straight points during a nine-minute streak in the first half. That run was fueled by sharp passing — especially by sophomore point guard Rachel Theriot — that turned Huskers loose under the basket.
In the first half, NU scored 24 points in the paint to only six for the Spartans. At times, that was a simple lob pass to Emily Cady, who cut to the basket after setting a screen for Theriot.
Theriot, who is third in the Big Ten with an assist average of 6.3 per game, had seven in the first half and ended the game with a career-high 12. It is the third straight game the 6-foot guard had 10 or more assists.
“We have become a better passing team than I would have thought,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “Some of our kids have played together for quite awhile.”
Cady just missed a double-double by scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But she also had five assists, pitching the ball out to players at the top of the key or open for 3-pointers.
“I just know my teammates can shoot the ball and score,” Cady said.
Senior All-American Jordan Hooper led the Huskers with 18 points and had six rebounds.
The Huskers embarrassed the Spartans under the basket, scoring 38 points, more than half their total, from close in. Michigan State, which averages 41.5 rebounds a game, had only 31.
Merchant barely minced words in expressing her displeasure with the officiating. She lamented the fact that Nebraska was called for only one foul in the first half and the Spartans didn’t go to the line once.
“I’ve never played in a game where you’ve only had one foul,” she said. By game’s end, Nebraska had been called for 11 fouls and Michigan State 17.
Michigan State (16-8) played without guard Kiana Johnson, who had eight assists in the Spartans’ win over the Huskers in January. In Saturday’s game, MSU had only eight assists as a team. Johnson has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons.
Nebraska has six more conference games remaining before the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis from March 6-9. The Huskers travel to Michigan on Thursday for a 6 p.m. game with the Wolverines.