LINCOLN — Coach Connie Yori heard the groans inside Pinnacle Bank Arena Wednesday night. Savvy Nebraska women’s basketball fans know an out-of-sync team when they see it, and as the clock ticked down on an ill-fated comeback against Indiana, the crowd got restless.
On one possession late in the fourth quarter, two Husker guards occupied roughly the same space at the top of the key, eyeballing each other, one waiting for the other to do something. Natalie Romeo, who at least had the ball between the two guards, eventually shot a 3-pointer that was deflected straight up into the air.
NU lost its third straight game — this time 79-68 to the Hoosiers. For the second straight game, the Huskers played without point guard Rachel Theriot, who’s battling severe pain in her left foot. Theriot didn’t even get the option of playing Wednesday night; coaches decided she wouldn’t, perhaps in hopes of Theriot playing on senior day, in what could be her final home game.
Then again, it may not be. Barring a near-miracle run through the Big Ten tournament, NU (17-11 overall and 8-9 in the Big Ten) has a WNIT résumé. That could mean more home games and, frankly, more chances for a young Husker roster to gel, since Yori opted to start three freshmen and two sophomores on Wednesday.
Or, as Yori put it, “three 13th-graders and two 14th-graders.”
The theme on Wednesday seemed to revolve around the power of positive thinking. Unlike the depressed mood after a 68-50 loss to Purdue on Sunday, Yori and Husker players were upbeat about their effort and passion and offered platitudes to that effect.
“We played with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion,” said freshman center Jessica Shepard, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “We’re just trying to — you know, without Rachel out there — play as hard as we can right now.”
“The mindset now is to finish this thing as strong as we can and do it for each other,” said sophomore guard Jasmine Cincore, who had a career-high 16 points.
Said Yori: “I really liked our competitive spirit. We fought.”
Nebraska even had a 39-38 halftime lead over Indiana, the surprise team of the Big Ten that improved to 19-10 overall and 11-6 in the league. The Huskers shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the first half and slowed the Hoosiers just enough.
But Indiana started the second half on a 9-2 run and never relinquished the lead. For the game, the Hoosiers hit 11 of 19 3-pointers, and in the second half, guards Tyra Buss and Alexis Gassion each hit a variety of darting runners and scoop shots that were hard to defend. Buss and Gassion each scored 22 points.
Indiana had a 71-59 cushion with 2:43 left in the game. NU cut that lead to 72-66 by the 1:13 mark, but Natalie Romeo missed five shots in the final minute while Indiana hit seven free throws.
Yori said Indiana hit “tough 3s” and Nebraska was just out of sync enough to determine the final result.
“We’re trying to get into offense and we’re playing kids out of position and it’s not perfect,” Yori said. “You lose a four-year starter who knows exactly what needs to be done and why, and there’s a lot of kids looking at each other like, ‘What is this now?’ So I think what we can get better at, is we can communicate better and we can be more assertive at calling something and getting us in something.”
Yori isn’t sure who the vocal leader will be. Theriot isn’t particularly vocal herself, but her innate understanding of the game generally has put her teammates in spots to succeed, especially on offense.
Theriot would like to play in Sunday’s game against Northwestern. Yori wants the same thing.
“It’d be a tough deal if she can’t play,” Yori said.
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