LINCOLN — The best shooter for Nebraska’s team, Jordan Hooper, and the best shooter for Penn State, Maggie Lucas, jumped in the air for the same errant pass. Smack! They crashed into each other and both fell backward.
Later, a ball straight to the head of PSU center Nikki Greene left her sprawled on the floor for several minutes. She got up, got checked for a concussion and returned to the game at the next stoppage of play.
Fast. Physical. Frantic. It was that kind of Sunday evening duel for the Big Ten title. The No. 7 Lady Lions had the depth and stamina to win 82-67 — and thus the regular-season conference crown outright by two games.
“We didn’t want to share it,” Lucas said.
And it was Lucas throwing the daggers — and tying a Devaney Center collegiate record on No. 20 NU’s Senior Night and final game in the building. The junior staked a strong claim to the league’s player of the year award with 34 points, including eight 3-pointers, many from several feet beyond the arc.
It’s the most 3-pointers any woman has made in Devaney. Seven collegiate men — including Nebraska guard Cary Cochran — have made eight in a game at Devaney. Only one Nebraska prep player — Omaha Burke’s Alvin Mitchell with 10 — has hit more 3s in the building.
“She had good looks, she put them up, she’s a great shooter, she knocked them down,” said NU guard Lindsey Moore, who finished with a team-high 23 points on a disappointing Senior Day.
Penn State coach Coquese Washington said: “Maggie just made some incredible shots.”
“Just let it fly,” Lucas said when asked what went through her mind Sunday.
Each time she did, the gasps and attendant groans of an energetic season-high 10,832 were as telling as her stat sheet.
When the Huskers played the Lady Lions to an 8-8 stalemate after six minutes, Lucas hit a 3. When Nebraska’s Princeton offense finally got some back-door flow in the second half, Lucas hit a 3. And another. And another. Three in a 1:53 span. And after the Huskers made one last push, cutting PSU’s lead to 65-56 with 6:32 left, here’s what Lucas did: She hit another 3.
A couple times in the first half, Nebraska’s defenders didn’t close fast enough on her. But in the second half, coach Connie Yori said, NU defended well. She buried treys anyway. Her teammates followed suit, as Penn State hit 62 percent of its shots in the second half. The Lady Lions’ frontcourt of Greene, Mia Nickson and Ariel Edwards wore down the Huskers’ interior defense, Lucas said, turning a three-point game with 12:27 left into a 15-point final margin.
“Their whole team is physical,” said sophomore forward Emily Cady, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. “It’s hard to get around.”
Yori, Cady and Moore lamented blown chances in the first half, when Nebraska (22-7, 12-4 Big Ten) missed five layups and five three throws. Though Lucas was in a rhythm for the opening 20 minutes — scoring 18 points — her supporting cast wasn’t. Still, Penn State (24-4, 14-2) led 38-32.
After a sizzling start — scoring nine of NU’s first 13 points — Moore got in first-half foul trouble thanks to two charges and a holding call on a screen. Yori kept Moore in the game after the first two fouls, but removed her after the third. In a game to win a share the Big Ten crown, why didn’t Yori roll the dice and leave Moore in?
“Because you don’t want her to get four?” she said to the chuckles of reporters. “I don’t know. The game didn’t get away from us. The game did not get away from us. I felt pretty good with where we were at.”
Aside from Moore, who hit 9 of 11 shots, the Huskers made 13 of 43. Hooper scored 14 but made just 4 of 17 shots. The misses included a number of long, off-balance 3-pointers that barely drew iron.
“We took great shots and some of them just didn’t fall the way we wanted them to,” Cady said.
The Huskers will take the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. NU will play the winner of the Northwestern-Iowa game Friday at 11:30 a.m. in suburban Chicago. Should the Hawkeyes win, it’d be the sixth time Nebraska and Iowa have played in two years.
Yori said an extra day of rest — afforded to the Big Ten’s top four seeds — should help Nebraska make a good run in the league tourney. Last year, the Huskers advanced to the title game, losing to Purdue in double overtime, but the foot injuries sustained by Hooper and Hailie Sample during that trip left NU hobbled for the NCAA tournament. Yori expects Nebraska can stay healthier playing, if need be, three games in three days.
Moore said she hopes to play Penn State once more, but the Lady Lions did not spoil her Senior Day, celebrated after the loss. Most of the fans remained in the Devaney to honor her and Meghin Williams. Moore thanked the fans and told them to buy season tickets in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Man, a lot of emotions hit me at once,” Moore said after the awards ceremony. “I was sad, I was upset, but I was so happy. I’ve loved my time here at Devaney and playing for Nebraska. If I had to go back and do it over, and make my decision over, I definitely would have made this same one.
“I’ve really embraced the people in Nebraska and they’ve made my years so memorable. And I don’t think I would have had that experience anywhere else.”
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