Give Rachel the ball and get out of the way.
That was the formula for another down-to-the-wire Big Ten home win for the Nebraska women's basketball team.
No. 18 Nebraska trailed Minnesota by as many as 14 points in the second half Thursday, but sophomore Rachel Theriot’s career-high 33 points rallied the Huskers to a thrilling 88-85 overtime win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Time and time again Theriot came off a screen and buried a jumper, a three-pointer or a floater. When she wasn’t hitting a shot, she was setting up her teammates with a career-high nine assists.
“She’s a heck of a lot more poised than her coach,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “She’s poised and it’s just her personality. She doesn’t get rattled. She knows what we’re looking for with our offense and she knows options A, B and C. She’s confident enough to make big shots.”
For the second straight Big Ten home game -- the other was a one-point win against Northwestern on Jan. 2 -- Theriot was an absolute rock down the stretch and made all the right moves. Against Minnesota, Theriot scored 21 of her 33 points in the second half and overtime.
“I just do whatever my team needs me to do,” Theriot said. “When they need me, I step up.”
In overtime, Nebraska made 4 of 6 free throws in the final 45 seconds, and Hailie Sample drew a charge with 30 seconds left for a big possession change. The Huskers led 88-85 with 15 seconds to play. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer who tallied 33 points, had to give up the ball for the final shot because of defensive pressure, and a three-pointer by Kayla Hirt missed badly.
“We’d been putting together runs this year, but we just hadn’t finished well,” said Nebraska senior Jordan Hooper, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We weren’t going to lose like that again, we were going to finish.”
A driving layup from Banham gave the Gophers their biggest lead at 55-41 with 12:52 to play. But the Huskers, who struggled to find consistency on offense, finally started hitting open shots. Emily Cady had 17 of her 23 points in the second half and overtime and started to dominate down low. Brandi Jeffery came off the bench to hit three three-pointers after halftime.
“We needed to make some shots on the perimeter,” Yori said. “Minnesota didn’t guard some of our kids because they were paying so much attention to Jordan, Rachel and Emily. They historically haven’t played us that way, they’ve played us straight-up. That was a game we easily could have lost, but our players showed a lot of toughness."
Nebraska still trailed by nine points, 67-56, with six minutes to play, but finally pulled even at 73 on a pair of Theriot free throws. Cady’s three-pointer put the Huskers up 76-73 with 2:31 remaining, and it was 78-75 in the game’s final moments. But the Huskers lost Banham defensively, and the sharpshooter drilled a step-back three-pointer to tie the game at 78 and force overtime.
Theriot’s performance overshadowed a milestone night for Hooper, who surpassed 2,000 points for her career with a three-pointer early in the second half. Only three other Huskers -- Karen Jennings (2,405), Maurtice Ivy (2,131) and Kelsey Griffin (2,033) – have reached that plateau. Hooper has 2,008 points, with half of her senior season to play.
“Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations about when I would do it,” Hooper said. “I just kept shooting, but my shot wasn’t falling tonight. When I made the three, the fans were cheering and that was cool, but I was pretty tired.”
It was a slow start for both high-scoring teams. The game was tied at 10 midway through the first half and the two teams combined to shoot 8-for-36 from the field. Nebraska took a 14-12 lead at the 9:50 mark on a pair of Theriot free throws, but Minnesota went on an 11-0 run, fueled by a pair of three-pointers from Banham, for a 21-14 advantage with 6:40 to play.
Nebraska closed to 25-23 on two more Theriot free throws and trailed 32-29 at halftime. Banham was effective using high screens to get open and scored 16 points in the first half.
Nebraska (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) hosts Purdue on Sunday.