LINCOLN — Late in Nebraska's 77-49 blowout of UCLA, forward Jordan Hooper took a seat on the bench and allowed herself a moment to look around new Pinnacle Bank Arena. She saw the largest nonconference crowd in program history, which included her family from Alliance.
“I gave them a wave a couple times,” Hooper said.
She and the No. 17 Huskers gave the 9,750 fans a show, too. Hooper scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to trigger a back-breaking, game-defining run. NU blistered the No. 25 Bruins, short-handed because of injuries, with pace and pressure, coasting to a win befitting of its preseason plaudits.
Coach Connie Yori — after spending weeks telling her players about this game, warning them, challenging them — was worried Nebraska might struggle. Far from it.
“We played some really good basketball,” she said.
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Said Hooper: “It was so much fun.”
Nebraska won the rebounding battle by 21, had 13 more assists and made nine more free throws. Mostly, NU (1-0) had a full bench of reserves who quickly wore out UCLA (0-1), which used six players because of injuries.
“(UCLA) had more kids dressed in their warmups than they did capable of being on the floor,” Yori said. “We caught a break from that standpoint ... we made a concerted effort to get the ball advanced up the floor because we just knew that kids get tired. They're asking kids to play for 40 minutes, and that's a hard thing to do.”
After defensive rebounds, Nebraska used long cross-court passes and headlong drives into the lane that left the Bruins gasping for breath and swiveling their heads to follow the ball. UCLA coach Cori Close said her team lacked the consistent discipline to get back. NU, meanwhile, just kept running.
“A couple possessions in, you could just tell: We were more fresh and we had more bodies coming in,” Hooper said.
The strategy paid off midway through the first half with the big run. Junior guard Brandi Jeffery found an open Hooper, who drained a 3-pointer. Jeffery then rebounded a Bruin miss and flipped to sophomore guard Rachel Theriot, who again found Hooper for a 3.
Jeffery then punctuated the stretch with three straight layups. On one, a UCLA defender stood helplessly under the hoop as Jeffery contorted around her for a bank shot. When the run — which took just four minutes of game clock — had ended, the Huskers led 35-15. NU led 40-20 at halftime.
UCLA never got closer than 15 in the second half. The Bruins missed 15 of their 19 3-pointers and their leading scorer from last year, Atonye Nyingifa, scored 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting.
“Our weaknesses were laid bare,” Close said.
Jeffery finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Theriot had nine assists. Freshman forward Allie Havers had 14 points — all in the second half — and three rebounds. Yori said Havers responded well after a couple of traveling calls in the first half.
“She's a competitive kid,” Yori said.
Yori focused more on the crowd — which included roughly 4,000 middle-schoolers from a pep rally held earlier in the day. With the game in hand and their complimentary boxes of pizza eaten, many of those students started performing the wave. New Husker converts?
“A noon game on a Friday, and who would think there's 10,000 fans here?” Yori said. “The middle-school kids were great, our regular fans were great. What a great way to open the arena. I was just thankful we played reasonably well. We did not want to come in here and lay an egg. And we didn't.”
NU has a quick turnaround ahead of it. Alabama visits Monday night. The Crimson Tide finished 13-18 last season and welcome eight newcomers to the roster.
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Video: Nebraska women's basketball highlights:
Video: Recap of the game: