HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Nebraska women's basketball coach Connie Yori calls rebounding and turnovers “the two elephants of the game.”
The second-seeded Huskers struggled with both in their Big Ten tournament semifinal against Purdue, dropping a 77-64 decision Saturday at the Sears Centre.
“We didn't take care of either of those two areas, and that was costly for us,” Yori said.
On the surface, the numbers may not seem like too big of a deal considering the Boilermakers (23-8) had just one more offensive rebound than the Huskers (23-8) and four fewer turnovers.
But there was a difference.
“When they turned us over, it led to baskets,” Yori said. “When they got offensive rebounds, they were able to shoot a high percentage.”
From about midway through the first half, Purdue made it clear that this wouldn't be the fourth overtime game between these teams in the last two years, using its size and strength to pull away.
Hailie Sample's layup put Nebraska ahead 21-20 with 10:06 left in the first half, but that was the team's last lead.
Purdue answered with an 8-0 run to take command and increased its lead to 42-31 at halftime by working the ball inside to Sam Ostarello and Taylor Manuel.
The 6-foot-2 Ostarello, who had 17 points and 19 rebounds in the teams' first meeting, scored six of her 18 points in the final 9:06 of the half while the 6-2 Manuel had five of her 11 points during the stretch.
“They get pretty deep position on us,” Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper said. “We're not as big and physical as they are, and they can pretty much just back us down. We didn't really have an answer for that tonight.”
Point guard Lindsey Moore, who led Nebraska with 22 points and eight assists, desperately tried to keep the Huskers close, and her two free throws cut what was once an 18-point second-half deficit to 63-53 with 8:54 to play.
Nebraska had three chances to pull within single digits, but missed on all three.
“I think we just missed some easy buckets inside,” Moore said. “We had good looks at it to break into the single digits, but we just weren't able to connect on it.”
April Wilson's 3-pointer with 3:37 left bumped the Boilermakers' lead back up to 18 and sealed the Huskers' fate.
Hooper looked to be in rhythm early, hitting 3 of her first 5 shots. But the junior had a quiet second half, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting.
“Moore and Hooper, they're such good players that we want to limit their touches,” said Purdue's KK Houser, a guard from Lincoln Southeast who had 13 points and five assists. “We want the ball out of their hands and their other players to beat us.”
The Huskers shot just 35 percent in the second half and 41 percent for the game, but Yori credited a Purdue squad that shot 45 percent from 3-point range and 44 percent overall.
“I just thought Purdue played well,” Yori said. “I think that's a big part of it.”