LINCOLN — There's a difference, Nebraska women's basketball coach Connie Yori said Saturday night, between playing defense with the hope the opponent misses shots and playing defense to force missed shots.
The 10th-ranked Huskers settled too much for the first kind of defense and wound up with their first loss — an upset, no less — in Pinnacle Bank Arena. Washington State (4-4) beat NU 76-72 and led for all but 45 seconds of the game. Two large Nebraska comebacks — one in each half — weren't enough to overcome the Cougars hitting 12 3-pointers and scoring 26 points off Husker turnovers.
“We knew they could shoot — we knew that was their bread and butter,” senior forward Jordan Hooper said. “I don't think we were really surprised. I think we were surprised they made them all. We knew they were going to come out and shoot, but it was kind of surprising to see every single one of their shots go in. For them, too. They were running up and down, yippin' and hollerin'.”
“We're searching for backup players,” Yori said. “I've mentioned that in a couple of our blowout games recently. That's been a concern. There's a big drop-off. ... We were tired.”
Specifically at the end of the game, when NU (6-1) overall had trimmed a 63-44 deficit to 66-65 with 4:53 remaining and had 4,529 fans at their loudest. The Huskers missed 8 of their last 10 shots. Hooper had three shots to tie the game or take the lead. She missed them all.
Hooper's best look came with 33 seconds left and the Huskers trailing 71-69. She came off a screen, took a handoff from Theriot and launched a 3-pointer that clanked off the side of the rim.
“It was just like the rest of the game,” Hooper said. “Nothing went in.”
Washington State coach June Daugherty said the Cougars successfully forced Hooper throughout the game to take shots a little farther from the basket than she liked and sometimes off the wrong foot.
“Connie had a great play called with the handoff and the step-back,” Daugherty said. “Our little 5-6 point guard had her hand up best she could.”
Starting WSU guards Tia Presley, Dawnyelle Awa and Lia Galdeira combined for 44 points and 12 assists. Reserve guard Taylor Edmondson scored 13 off the bench — nine more than the Huskers' entire bench, which took just four of the 66 shots NU attempted. Husker forward Emily Cady had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Theriot had 10 points, six assists and six rebounds, but also five turnovers.
Yori said Nebraska continues to look for defensive solutions. Yori prefers to build her teams on pressure man-to-man defense, but new NCAA rules governing hand-checking make it harder, she said, to play that kind of defense. NU's zone defense struggled to rotate with the speed and recognition necessary to slow Washington State's shooters.
It's not necessarily a great problem to have as NU heads to North Carolina on Wednesday. The No. 11 Tar Heels are averaging 86 points per game.
“We're just not able to take a lot of things away from opponents right now,” Yori said. “We've got to get better defensively. We're trying to find ourselves a little in terms of what we should do.”