Maybe seeing their coach leave the game was the inspiration the Huskers needed.
The No. 21 Nebraska women’s basketball team was falling short. Four inexperienced freshmen led its opponent, unranked Indiana. Somehow, the Hoosiers (17-7 overall 4-7 Big Ten) were outscoring the Huskers (18-5, 8-3).
Indiana freshman guard Alexis Gassion led the Hoosiers in scoring with 19 points, while freshman guard Larryn Brooks scored 10. Although the Huskers held an 8-point lead early in the first half, Gassion and Brooks helped the Hoosiers pull ahead to gain a 36-32 advantage by halftime.
The Huskers kept their backseat position in the beginning of the second half. Just as they pulled ahead by 2 points, Nebraska coach Connie Yori fainted.
“It was scary to look down and see her lying on the ground,” Indiana coach Curt Miller said. “That’s coming from a coach who had a stroke on the sideline two years ago. I understand the pressures and demands of college coaching, so I’ve been there, and I pray that she is OK.”
The 8,000 fans fell completely silent despite the utter eruption that ensued after senior forward Jordan Hooper dropped a layup and got fouled.
Although a stretcher was brought onto the court, Yori walked off under her own volition. As the Huskers continued to play, their coach was taken to a Lincoln hospital, where they found she was suffering from an infection and dehydration. She returned home on Sunday evening.
Without Yori at the helm of the Nebraska women’s basketball team, assistant head coach Sunny Smallwood stepped in to coach the remainder of the game.
“As soon as I saw her down, my first reaction was to pull the team together off away from her and get us organized and focused into what was next,” Smallwood said. “I don’t think I necessarily needed to say anything because there is such a great love for her as a leader.”
That’s when the Huskers lived up to their top-25 ranking and took back the lead from their young opponent. That’s when they pulled ahead by 15 points to walk away with the 76-61 win. That’s when Hooper broke the school record career 3-pointers with 270, surpassing Kiera Hardy (2004-07), who had 267.
But Hooper’s accomplishment was overshadowed by the departure of her coach.
“Today was a big day, pink day for breast cancer awareness. And then that happens,” said Hooper, who notched six 3-pointers in the game. “So it gives you something else to play for. You play for your coach, you play for breast cancer, and you play for yourselves. I mean it just gave us all a bigger puff of air I guess.”
Nebraska handed Indiana its second straight loss. Before coming to Lincoln, the Hoosiers competed against another top-25 opponent, Penn State. The Hoosiers lost by a smaller margin than that of their game against Nebraska with a final score of 71-63.
“That’s back-to-back games now against Penn State and Nebraska, and I thought our young team really competed,” Miller said. “I thought the big difference in the second half was their effort to the glass and their second-chance points and second-chance opportunities. They were inspired. After their leader went down like that, they went on a 26-11 run to end the game and you understand why.”
With only four regular season Big Ten games left on the schedule and six wins in a row, the Huskers head on the road once again to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday.