LINCOLN — As the Nebraska women’s basketball team tries to close its hands on a conference crown, get ready for more Husker players to notch All-Big Ten honors.
As No. 16 NU closes its regular-season home slate Thursday at Pinnacle Bank Arena against Illinois, the league is expanding its first and second team to 10 players each. So senior forward Jordan Hooper — first-team All-Big Ten in 2012 and 2013 and a certain lock for the spot again this year — is likely to be joined by one or more Huskers when the league announces the team next Monday.
Coach Connie Yori said she submitted Hooper, forward Emily Cady and guard Rachel Theriot for All-Big Ten consideration. All three, she said, have been “consistent and outstanding all year” and are among the top 20 players in the conference.
Hooper, who plays the last regular-season home game of her career Thursday, has a clear shot at Big Ten player of the year, though she’ll have to beat 2013 winner, Penn State guard Maggie Lucas, for that. Hooper is averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds. Lucas averages 21.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
“She’s definitely one of the top couple candidates,” Yori said of Hooper. Yori stopped short of declaring Hooper the best. “She’s been really good a good portion of our conference ... and she’s doing a lot of other things for us that she wasn’t doing a year ago. She’s a lot better passer. She had four assists the other night. Jordan’s always done the really big for us really well in terms of scoring and rebounding, but now she’s doing more of the little things well for us. Passing, being a better cutter, getting her teammates involved. I think her defense has improved.”
Theriot, a sophomore point guard who had to fill the shoes of four-year starter Lindsey Moore, has averaged 13.7 points and 6.5 assists this year, but she’s been even better in Big Ten play, where those averages have ballooned to 15.6 and 7.4.
“She has exceeded our expectations,” Yori said of Theriot. “She’s been really good. And knock on wood, her foot has held up.”
Theriot missed some of the offseason with a lingering foot injury. In Big Ten games, she leads the league in minutes played at 39.3. Yori said she wouldn’t trade Theriot for any other league point guard, but noted that Iowa’s Sam Logic is also one of the best.
Whether Hooper wins Big Ten player of the year — or Theriot and Cady get recognition — could boil down to how the Huskers finish the season. NU remains in the hunt for the league title. Win out, and the Huskers win at least a share and grab the No. 1 seed for the Big Ten tournament. They also avenge falling short last year, when Nebraska had a chance to tie for the Big Ten regular season title by beating Penn State in its last game at the Devaney Center. The Nittany Lions won and Lucas clinched the Big Ten player of the year award with 34 points.
“We’ve been close here the last couple years,” Yori said. “We were close two years ago and had our chances in the Big Ten tournament — four games in four days — and then we had our chance last year against Penn State. We’ve been close a couple times. I would hope they’d be hungry.”
Said Hooper: “Finally we have the opportunity, and we hold it in our own hands. We have to decide, I guess, whether we’ll actually grab it this year and get it. It’s our own focus and our own will that’s going to carry us. ... That’s the one thing that would mean a lot to get. Put the icing on the cake. It’d be awesome to get it, honestly.”