A short-handed and not-healthy No. 12 Husker women's basketball team dove into Big Ten play and came up short in both of their conference games this week. Between injuries and illness, Coach Connie Yori had six scholarship players (seven players total) available for the B1G opener.
At Minnesota (December 29), the Huskers started off well. They led by 14 points with 7:50 left, but the Golden Gophers erupted on a 13-0 run in the next 3:40 then completed the comeback with a 72-69 win at Williams Arena.
Nebraska, which led by as many as 17 points after a three-point play by Emily Cady with 10:14 left in the game, carried a 61-47 edge after Cady's seventh straight point with 7:50 left. Cady, a 6-2 forward from Seward, Neb., finished with her sixth double-double of the year with 21 points and 14 rebounds while playing the full 40 minutes.
However, she did not score the rest of the way, and Nebraska managed just eight points in the final 7:49. Brandi Jeffery (5' 7" Brandi Jeffery!) contributed a career-high 16 rebounds to go along with four assists to help the Huskers build the 17-point lead.
Sophomore Allie Havers saw a majority of her time because of foul trouble for senior forward Hailie Sample, who fouled out with 3:50 left. It was just the third time in 112 career games that Sample fouled out. Sample finished with four points and nine rebounds in just 22 minutes.
For the game, Nebraska hit just 37 percent (30-81) of its shots from the floor, including just 18.2 percent (4-22) of its three-point attempts. The Huskers still outshot the Gophers overall, as Minnesota hit just 34.2 percent (26-76) of its field goal attempts, including 6-of-25 (24 percent) of its threes. However, Minnesota hit 14-of-17 free throws to outscore the Big Red 14-5 at the line. Minnesota improved to 12-1 and 1-0 in the conference.
Even with only seven players in uniform, this game was a huge disappointment. Coach Yori had all of her starters and this is a veteran bunch -- combining for 355 starts. Minnesota was without their best player in Rachel Banham.
On January 3, the Huskers returned home to host B1G newcomers, the Maryland Terrapins. Nebraska had eight players available against a very talented team. Nebraska was tied with No. 14 Maryland at the half, but the Huskers went ice cold in the second stanza, and the Terrapins ran away with a 75-47 win.
Playing in front of more than 7,500 fans and a CBS national television audience in Nebraska's Big Ten home opener, NU slipped to 10-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. Maryland improved to 11-2 and 2-0 in the conference. Nebraska also saw its 12-game home winning streak come to an end, dating back to last season.
The Huskers battled to a 27-27 tie with the Terps at halftime, but Maryland used a 13-2 surge in the first four minutes of the second half to take a 40-29 lead after a Lexie Brown jumper.
Nebraska trimmed the Maryland margin back to eight points at 46-38 with 11:19 left, before the Terps erupted on another 13-2 surge to take a 19-point lead at 59-40 after a Laurin Mincy three with 7:45 remaining.
Nebraska would get no closer than 17 the rest of the way, as Hailie Sample briefly stopped the surge with NU's first field goal in 5:40 to make it 59-42. Maryland closed the game with its biggest lead of the night at 28 points.
"We lost to a good team today. Maryland is pretty talented. We could've played better in the second half," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "I call these the elephant games, where you play against super-athletic teams. The two things you really have to do, you really have to take care of the ball, and you really have to defensive rebound. Early in the second half, we didn't do either of those and the game got away from us."
The good news is that the Huskers seem to be getting well from the illnesses that have been cutting into the lineup. The presence of so many veterans should also bode well for the team to right the ship as they continue through conference play.
The Huskers return to Big Ten road action next week when they head to Michigan State on January 8. Tip-off between the Big Red and the Spartans at the Breslin Center is set for 7:30 p.m., with live national television coverage by the Big Ten Network.