LINCOLN — Players and coaches on the Nebraska women's basketball team agree NU made two mistakes before its 66-57 loss at in-state rival Creighton last year.
First, the Huskers had two bad practices before the game.
Second, they took CU lightly.
“We treated it like another game, and it's never another game,” Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper said. “It's Creighton.”
So the Bluejays seized control with six minutes left in the first half and never relinquished the lead. They gashed Nebraska for 14 layups and shot 56.3 percent from the field. And they held Hooper scoreless. She missed all seven shots and spent most of the night blanketed by women in blue.
Those are memories Hooper and the Huskers would like to erase Saturday when NU and CU tip off at 11 a.m. inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We knew what they were going to do to us, and we let them do it to us,” Hooper said. “We knew exactly how they were going to attack us, and we allowed that to happen.”
NU coach Connie Yori, a former Creighton player and coach, said her Huskers “got attacked” by the Bluejays last year.
“So we've got to be the attackers a little bit more than we were last year,” she said.
The Huskers' main problem last year was “awful” defense, forward Emily Cady said.
“They drove it on us every time,” she said. “They literally could do whatever they wanted against our defense.”
The No. 19 Huskers' defense has struggled at times this year, too. The NCAA crackdown on hand-checking has affected NU's man-to-man pressure approach, as has the Huskers' relatively inexperienced bench.
“If you're going to get called on hand checks,” Yori said, “you have to do something so you're not sending your opponent to the line.”
Nebraska has been successful in preventing that; the Huskers head to the line 13 times more per game than their opponents. A plus-9.6 rebounding margin helps prevent second-chance shots for opponents, as well.
But NU foes are making 6.6 3-pointers per game. Compare that to last year, when they made 5.1 per game, or the 32-win 2009-10 season, when they made 4.3.
That points to a softer perimeter defense and some occasional zone. NU (7-2 overall) ranks 193rd nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
In theory, that plays into Creighton's hands. The Bluejays — 4-4 overall on a diet of tough nonconference opponents — are taking nearly 25 3-pointers per game and making seven of them. Sophomore guard Marissa Janning — CU's best perimeter shooter and leading scorer at 17.4 points per game — scorched NU for 19 points and four 3-pointers last year.
“She's a very good shooter, but she's also really good off the dribble,” Yori said. “Why do kids score in the high teens and the 20s? For most part, they have versatility. ... She beat us off the dribble a lot last year.”
Hooper's game is similar. Roughly 30 percent of her 21.6 points per game are scored beyond the 3-point line. That's down 10 percent from last season's average, which means Hooper gets more baskets in the paint and more fruitful trips to the free throw line. In a 95-75 shootout win over Utah State, Hooper didn't even attempt a 3-pointer.
“I'm better at reading defenses since my junior year even,” she said. “I'm trying to get better in practice every day with that, because I can't live and die by the 3. I'm trying to do more with getting to the rim and not just settling.”
Staying aggressive is a theme Hooper would like to see permeate her team's psyche this week. It's a big game, she said. A fun game. One with a little extra edge to it because Creighton is just up the road and Yori spent much of her life within that program.
“There's a change,” Hooper said. “You can definitely feel it. And it's not just with her. It's with the whole coaching staff and the players. You can feel everybody wants this game.”