Before the Nebraska women's basketball team can reach escape velocity — propelled by a 10-game win streak, ignited by a chance to share the Big Ten title and saluting seniors Lindsey Moore and Meghin Williams — the Huskers must find a way past Penn State.
Sunday’s 5 p.m. game, the finale for the Husker women at the Devaney Sports Center, promises to be a big matchup between No. 20 Nebraska (22-6, 12-3) and defending Big Ten regular-season champ and seventh-ranked Penn State (23-4, 13-2).
The import of the game has grown in the past 72 hours.
Penn State stumbled at Minnesota and Nebraska survived a scare at Wisconsin on Thursday.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori said “This could be the biggest game in Devaney ever” after the Huskers, who started Big Ten play 2-3, earned a shot at tying for the conference title.
“We’re having fun, and winning is a part of that,” said Moore, who will start for the 128th time in her career. “Rachel (Theriot) is having a good season and getting better all the time. Tear’a (Laudermill) is doing things on defense none of the rest of us can do. Brandi Jeffery has been really tough after a rough stretch with injuries and her grandmother dying. Hoop (Jordan Hooper) is just like always and Em (Emily Cady) is back to her old self and really playing well.
“Remember, these guys were all freshmen last year (except for Hooper) and with all the games and reps, they expect to be better this year.”
Moore, a guard from Covington, Wash., said the situation reminds her of playing with seniors Kelsey Griffin, Cory Montgomery, Vonnie Turner and Nikki Bober on the 2009-10 team that opened with 30 straight wins and reached the NCAA Sweet 16.
“The time has gone by extremely fast,” Moore said. “They did so much for me and they all took on leadership roles for freshmen like me. I’ve tried to become that kind of leader.”
As for her final game in the Devaney Center, Moore said she will be a bit calmer than the first time. “The first game, I kept thinking, ‘Don’t fall.’”
For Williams, the final home game is special, too, because it’s a step closer to getting her left foot healed.
The senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., missed half of her freshman season with injuries. She had surgery her sophomore season, and last year was hurt on and off all season. This season, with surgery set for the postseason, Williams has played sparingly and practiced even less. But she has spelled Hooper and Cady, averaging two points and two rebounds a game.
“The pain is there all the time, still,” Williams said. When the numbness sets in, she feels better temporarily. “But there’s a constant throb, and at times it feels like I’m walking on a knife. You just suck it up and keep playing.
“We’re making a run at the Big Ten and at the NCAA. I don’t want to miss any of that.”
The Huskers have locked up the No. 2 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament and have been tabbed as No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in some bracketology blogs.
A victory against Penn State, which throttled NU 80-58 on Jan. 5 in State College, Pa., would help NU’s chances of a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, but those pairings won’t be announced for two weeks, and in the meantime, as Yori says, “This is our biggest game. The one in front of us.”