LINCOLN — For years, Rachel Theriot would wear her brown hair in two long braids to play basketball games. Along with her pass-first mentality, it was her signature on the Cleveland prep scene.
But a few weeks ago, the Nebraska freshman guard put it in a bun for a shootaround. Her Husker teammates razzed her a little, but told her to keep the look.
“I didn't know if I wanted to do it because it kinda messes up my flow,” Theriot said Wednesday, 24 hours before the Huskers' Thursday night game against No. 25 Michigan State. “But I was like, 'well, I have nothing to lose.' So I did it anyway.”
Theriot (pronounced TERRY-oh) played pretty well without the braids. And as she stretched across two chairs at the Devaney Center Wednesday, she wore the bun and figured “maybe I'll mix it up a little.”
Count it as another development in Theriot's season of learning the point guard position on the job.
The Top 100 recruit plays on a painful foot that will require offseason surgery. She tries to soak up every lesson senior All-America candidate Lindsey Moore can teach her. She's battled through shooting slumps and dying shot clocks where the ball's in her hands and the defense is tougher and quicker than anything she faced in high school.
And, yes, since she's averaging 31 minutes per game in Big Ten play, Theriot's learning to raise her voice a little on the court. And teammates — who watched Jordan Hooper go through the same process two years ago — are noticing.
“Rachel's definitely shy and quiet,” senior forward Meghin Williams said. “But last game, throughout the game, you could actually hear her talking on defense throughout the whole gym.”
Because of injuries — guards Brandi Jeffery, Sadie Murren and Courtney Aitken are out for Thursday's game, and Williams plays with chronic foot pain — Theriot is now a key part of a seven-player rotation. Fans saw her score 13 points and dish out eight assists in an 84-63 win over Minnesota that earned her a second Big Ten Freshman of the Week Award. She's now averaging 7.7 points and four assists in league play.
“She's become a clear option for us on offense,” coach Connie Yori said.
An option Nebraska (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) will need to upset Michigan State (16-2, 4-1), which boasts one of the league's most athletic, physical backcourts. The Spartans — who lead the league in scoring defense, field goal defense and rebounding margin — beat up on an injured Husker team 73-53 last year. This year, NU needs a win to get back in the top half of the Big Ten and protect its home court, where it's already lost to Purdue and Illinois.
Since Michigan State has the defenders to concentrate on leading scorers Moore and Hooper, Theriot and the rest of Nebraska's supporting cast will have to deliver. Outside of sophomore forward Emily Cady, that's been an iffy proposition this year. Theriot's symbolic of that.
She's scored 14, nine and 13 points in Big Ten road games. In losses to Purdue and Illinois, she hit a combined 2 of 14 shots and scored five total points.
Yori hasn't pulled Theriot, though. For one thing, Yori said, Theriot's still passing the ball effectively. But the Huskers have also seen Theriot make shots and scoring plays in practice that Yori thinks will eventually translate to games. Theriot appreciates Yori's patience.
“It definitely gives you a confidence,” Theriot said. “Or builds it up to a point. Instead of her taking me out and me thinking, 'dang, I can't mess up,' you just play the game. If you mess up, you mess up, but coach lets you play through it. That gives you a chance to grow.”
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