Sloppy play slows Huskers in loss to Illinois

Nebraska's Lindsey Moore is fouled by Illinois' Adrienne GodBold and Alexis Smith while chasing a loose ball in the first half.

LINCOLN — Twelve missed layups. Several passes to cameramen and fans. Wild 3-pointers hitting nothing but air or backboard. Players regarding the opposing defense as if it were an alien artifact. A coach spinning on one heel, running her hands over her face, ready to chew the scenery out of frustration.

In a yuckfest of 79 missed shots and 50 combined turnovers, the Nebraska women’s basketball team lost 62-52 at home to Illinois Thursday night.

“I hope some people brought some blindfolds for that one,” NU coach Connie Yori said.

If any of the 5,358 fans at the Devaney Center had, they would have been joining the participants on the floor.

One Illinois guard, Alexis Smith, had 13 turnovers. NU senior Lindsey Moore, who leads the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio, had nine giveaways. One floated pass before the half-court line — stolen, of course — resembled an early-era Taylor Martinez flip of futility.

“I have to be better with the ball out there, keep my cool,” Moore said.

The Illini (10-7 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten) specialize in producing these black swan games. They run a 2-1-2 trapping zone that first-year coach Matt Bollant calls “buzz.” It typically sends two players at one guard and functions more like buzzkill. Thursday, it produced 16 steals and forced 26 Nebraska turnovers.

The Huskers stood around the perimeter, hoping forward Jordan Hooper might flash open for a short corner 3-pointer. A few times she did and made them. She also missed 16 shots to go with her team-high 17 points.

Five of Hooper’s misses were from point-blank range. Sophomore forward Emily Cady chipped in three misses from just a few feet. On the rare occasions Nebraska would bust the buzz, it would botch the bunnies.

“If they’re going to sell out the way they do — and that’s what that defense is, selling out, trapping everywhere — you gotta make ‘em pay on the back end,” Yori said. “We had 12, 13 opportunities right at the basket, and we didn’t make ‘em pay.”

Illinois started the game in a man pressure defense. Nebraska took a 14-9 lead against that. It scored six points in the next 13 minutes against the “buzz.” The Illini led 27-20 at the break.

NU (12-6 and 2-3) cut the lead to 35-32 with 15:21 left in the game, but the Illini immediately went on a 9-0 run. Illinois came into the game last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, yet won the board battle 45-36. Senior forward Karisma Penn had 18 by herself.

Were the Huskers surprised by the Illini’s athleticism and style? Yori and Hooper said Nebraska practiced for two days against the buzz. The Huskers turned the ball over in workouts, too — but they made the shorter shots. Against Illinois, one mistake piled on another.

“I don’t think we kept our poise very well throughout the game,” Hooper said. “We started out kind of shaky, up and down. We kept turning it over and it kind of got to us. ... We over-analyzed things and threw it a little bit harder than we should have, and it went out of bounds. It frustrated everybody.”

Illini senior Adrienne GodBold, who rejoined the team at semester, led all scorers with 19 points. She and Ivory Crawford, who scored 15, both fouled out with plenty of time left in the game.

“We’d rather throw a little water on them than light a fire,” Bollant said with a smile.

The Huskers might need some fire of their own to pull off what now looks like an upset at Minnesota on Sunday. But Moore’s confident that NU’s about to turn the corner.

“We haven’t played the best basketball we could,” she said.

>> Notes: Freshman guard Sadie Murren sat out the game with an injured back.

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