LINCOLN — If Nebraska women's basketball guard Lindsey Moore could run pick-and-roll plays all night with Jordan Hooper, well, she probably would. Hooper's outside-in game is tough to guard, and Moore can conjure up just about any kind of flip shot imaginable on a drive to the hoop.
“It's the hardest thing to guard in the game,” Moore said.
But the senior point guard needs an opponent willing to comply. In the Huskers' 59-54 win Thursday night over No. 25 Michigan State, they got a defense that switched on ball screens and created exactly the kinds of matchups Moore and Hooper wanted.
NU hadn't expected that from the Spartans, who boast the Big Ten's No. 1 scoring defense. But when MSU stuck with its plan, Nebraska changed its attack. Moore repeatedly drove to the hoop. Hooper slipped and cut behind defenders, catching lobs for easy layups.
The results? Try 34 points in the paint and 25 points for Hooper.
“We actually went down to the low block and scored,” coach Connie Yori deadpanned.
“That's not good, obviously,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. She paused. “Yep, not good.”
Nebraska (14-6 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten) kept momentum rolling from a rout Sunday over Minnesota and into a sorely needed bye week that Yori hopes will help heal her team. Only eight players suited up for the game, and only seven of them practice.
Still, NU beat the league's top rebounding team on the boards 39-38, used a modified zone defense to frustrate Michigan State (16-3, 4-2) and shot 44 percent from the floor. Even nine missed free throws couldn't keep Nebraska from what Yori called the best league win so far.
“We went out there with that fierce look in our eye,” said Hooper, the mild-mannered star for whom ferocity is a state reserved for the rarest moments.
She scored seven of Nebraska's first 15 points and had one of her best nights against a defense known for shutting down the opponent's leading scorer.
“About back to where it should be, I'd say,” Hooper said of her play Thursday.
The junior from Alliance was helped by Moore, who scored 12 points and dished out six assists, and timely spot minutes from reserves Meghin Williams and Katie Simon, who combined for six points and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
NU led 30-23 at halftime after shooting 50 percent from the floor. When Michigan State cut the spread to 43-39 with 12:38 left, the Huskers clamped down on the driving lanes and forced the Spartans to hit perimeter shots. Michigan State missed its next 10 shots — five of them 3-point attempts — going 9:12 without a field goal.
“You can't go nine minutes on the road in the Big Ten without a basket,” Merchant said.
The Huskers had their largest lead — 52-41 — at the 3:56 mark. From there, Moore hit three free throws and NU added two layups to stave off a late Michigan State comeback. With the win, Nebraska moved into sole possession of sixth place in the Big Ten.
The Spartans were led off the bench by sophomore guard Kiana Johnson, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 22 points. Michigan State's starters hit just 9 of 34 shots.
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