By Jeff Griesch
Nebraska Media Relations
A year ago, the Nebraska women's basketball team was one of the youngest in the nation. Nebraska's 12-player roster featured just one active senior, while the starting five included two true freshmen that started every game. Two other true freshmen and a pair of redshirts played major roles throughout the season.
But Nebraska's young team grew up fast in its first season in the Big Ten Conference, as point guard Lindsey Moore and forward Jordan Hooper powered the Huskers to the second-most wins in school history and a final top-25 national ranking.
The 2012-13 version of the Huskers will still be young, but with four returning starters and 10 letterwinners, Nebraska will add experience to its list of strengths.
"Last year's team was one of the youngest I have ever coached," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "They accomplished a lot, and honestly they probably didn't understand how significant it was at the time. Now we've had a full year to work with this group, and we've seen some good growth in the offseason."
Moore and Hooper will be expected to lead the Huskers again in 2012-13. The dynamic duo appeared on the 2012 Naismith Trophy Midseason 32, and both have earned spots on the 25-player Wade Watch list this preseason.
"Jordan creates matchup problems for opponents because she's 6-2 and can shoot the three," Yori said. "She has a great work ethic and has been improving her game in all areas since her first day on campus. Lindsey can attack teams in a number of ways. She can hit the three, but she can also beat teams off the dribble and get to the basket. She's a smart passer and probably our best defensive player."
They are joined by returning starters Emily Cady and Hailie Sample. In 2011-12, they were the first freshmen teammates in NU history to start every game.
"Emily was one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten last year, and she is probably just beginning to understand her all-around potential," Yori said. "She can drive, hit the mid-range jumper, knock down the three and she's a really good passer. She is also an aggressive defender and an excellent rebounder at both ends. She's done a good job of gaining strength in the offseason. Hailie is a great team defender. She is a good screener, a smart passer and a solid rebounder."
In addition to the four returning starters, Nebraska returns senior forward Meghin Williams and junior center Adrianna Maurer to bolster an already potent inside game.
Katie Simon, a 6-2 sophomore forward, adds another option inside, while fellow sophomores Rebecca Woodberry, Brandi Jeffery and Tear'a Laudermill all made significant contributions in the backcourt last season.
Overall, Nebraska returns 91.3 percent (2,152 of 2,356) of its points, 93.8 percent (1,310 of 1,396) of its rebounding, 81.7 percent (358 of 438) of its assists and 90.8 percent (257 of 283) of its steals. The Huskers also return 99 percent (100 of 101) of their blocked shots.
Nebraska's talent and experience led the Huskers to a No. 16 early preseason ranking from ESPN.com and a No. 19 preseason ranking from Lindy's, after NU finished No. 17 in the final 2012 Associated Press poll.
"On paper, we look pretty good. Unfortunately, you don't win games on paper," Yori said. "You have to work hard in the offseason, focus on improving yourself and the team on a daily basis, and then give tremendous effort every day in practice. Our focus this year will be the same as it always is. We want to be the best practicing team in the country. If we do that, then good things will happen."
Moore returns as the most experienced Husker and arguably the top point guard in school history. The 5-9 senior from Covington, Wash., was one of eight finalists for the 2012 Lieberman Award, presented to the nation's top point guard.
Moore, who has started all 98 games in her Nebraska career, has helped lead the Huskers to two of the best seasons in school history. In 2010, she was at the controls of a loaded Husker team that rolled to a perfect 29-0 regular season and claimed the Big 12 title. Along the way, she became the first true freshman point guard in NCAA history to start every game for a team that went unbeaten in the regular season. Moore helped the Huskers finish with a 32-2 overall record, while leading NU to its first NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
In 2011-12, Moore led the Huskers to a 24-9 overall record that included a 10-6 Big Ten mark. She earned second-team All-Big Ten honors behind conference point guards Samantha Prahalis from Ohio State and Alex Bentley from Penn State, who both captured spots on the five-player All-Big Ten first team.
In most other years, Moore would have been a first-team all-league pick. She ranked No. 7 in the Big Ten in scoring with 15.7 points per game, while ranking No. 2 in the conference with 5.1 assists per contest. She also ranked No. 5 in the Big Ten with 2.2 steals per game.
Moore enters her final season at No. 16 on Nebraska's all-time scoring list with 1,160 points. She also ranks No. 4 on the school's career assist list with 504, within striking distance of Meggan Yedsena's school-record 696.
Moore, who as a freshman distributed the ball to first-team All-America forward Kelsey Griffin in 2009-10, will have the luxury of feeding the ball to another All-American in Hooper in 2012-13.
Last season, Hooper earned honorable-mention All-America accolades from the AP after leading the Big Ten with 14 double-doubles as a sophomore. Hooper also led the Big Ten with 9.3 rebounds per game, while ranking fourth in the conference with 18.9 points per contest. Her scoring and rebounding numbers ranked among the top 50 players in the nation.
The 6-2 forward from Alliance, Neb., was a first-team WBCA All-Region 6 selection and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. She also became the first sophomore in school history to reach 1,000 points in her career. She enters her junior campaign ranked No. 5 on the NU career three-point list with 134, and No. 8 in career double-doubles with 17. She also ranks 22nd on the Nebraska career scoring list.
Moore and Hooper have showcased their explosiveness throughout their careers. Hooper owns four career 30-point games and has produced 20 or more points in 21 of her 64 career starts. Moore has added 16 20-point games in her career, including a pair of 30-point efforts.
Hooper and Moore became the first Husker teammates to each score 30 points in the same game, combining for 63 in a win at Northern Arizona on Dec. 10, 2011.
As the 2011-12 season progressed, Moore and Hooper got more offensive support from Cady.
A tremendous all-around player, Cady ranked among the Big Ten's top-six freshmen in five major categories, including scoring (3rd, 9.9 ppg), rebounding (2nd, 6.5 rpg), blocks (3rd, 0.8 bpg), assists (6th, 1.7 apg) and steals (6th, 1.4 spg). Along the way, the Big Ten All-Freshman pick became the fourth Husker freshman in history to produce 300 points and 200 rebounds.
In Big Ten play she was even better, averaging 12.3 points per game. Through her first eight games as a freshman, Cady averaged just 4.8 points per game and produced double figures just once.
In the last 21 games, the 6-2 forward from Seward, Neb., notched double figures 14 times. She grabbed double-figure rebounds in three of NU's final four games, including a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
All three of Cady's double-doubles came in Nebraska's final 12 games. She notched a double-double against Iowa with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the Big Ten Tournament, after producing her first career double-double with 11 points and a career-best 12 rebounds in Nebraska's epic triple-overtime victory at No. 15 Purdue on Feb. 2.
Her performance at Purdue included a miraculous 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game to a third overtime, where the Huskers eventually prevailed.
It was one of her 25 three-pointers on the year, which ranked No. 7 by a Husker freshman in history. Her 216 rebounds ranked No. 3 and her team-leading 28 blocks ranked No. 5 all-time among Husker freshmen.
Sample joined Cady, Hooper and Moore in Nebraska's starting five for all 33 games. The 6-1 forward from Flower Mound, Texas, also joined her three teammates on the list of just nine Huskers in history to start every game as true freshmen.
Sample averaged 3.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists while providing strong defense. She sparked the Huskers' run to the Big Ten title game by averaging 7.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in four tournament games.
Sample's health could play a role in the Huskers' fortunes in 2012-13. She suffered a stress reaction in her leg before NU's NCAA Tournament loss. She also has battled back pain that limited her during the offseason.
She was not alone in fighting injuries down the stretch last year. Hooper also nursed a stress reaction in her lower leg before the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers gave her extra rest in the offseason.
Moore suffered a knee bruise against Northwestern on Feb. 16, that slowed her physically at the end of the season. Cady suffered a knee injury late in the year that required offseason surgery.
"There's no doubt that we wore down a little bit at the end of last season. That probably had a lot to do with playing four games in four days at the Big Ten Tournament," Yori said. "We try to play a deep rotation with 10 to 12 players, but last year we only had 10 active players at the end of the year. Six of them were freshmen, so we probably had to rely a little too much on our starters. Hopefully a year of experience and some fresh legs will help us combat that a little better this season."
Williams will be the most experienced Husker off the bench. The 6-1 senior forward from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., played all 33 games last year, averaging 2.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. She joins Moore as the only remaining Huskers from NU's 2010 Sweet Sixteen team. Williams has been limited by injuries throughout her career.
Maurer gives the Huskers their lone center on the roster. The 6-3 junior from Shawnee Mission, Kan., averaged 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds through Nebraska's first 10 games of 2011-12, before succumbing to a back injury. She made her last appearance at Northern Arizona on Dec. 10, and underwent back surgery Jan. 19.
Maurer progressed ahead of schedule during an extensive offseason of rehabilitation, and she could provide Nebraska with a stronger presence on the block.
"Meghin and Adri's health could be keys for us," Yori said. "If they can stay on the court, they can provide us with some flexibility, versatility and depth inside."
Simon also could play a more significant role inside for the Huskers. The 6-2 sophomore forward from Roseville, Calif., runs the floor well and has shown the ability to hit the outside shot. After redshirting as a freshman in 2010-11, Simon brings two years of experience in the Husker system. Her 2011-12 season was highlighted by a 10-point, five-rebound effort in 19 minutes against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.
"Katie had a good offseason," Yori said. "She brings a positive, hard-working attitude to the gym every day, so she is making progress in her game."
While health is a concern for the Huskers inside, NU's backcourt could be the deepest in school history.
Nebraska must replace three-year starting guard Kaitlyn Burke, but there are no shortage of candidates. Sophomore Brandi Jeffery saw the most action of NU's returning guards. The 2011 Louisiana High School Player of the Year and Parade All-American averaged 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds while playing all 33 games. Her 38 steals and 34 assists ranked among the top five Huskers.
Sophomore Tear'a Laudermill added 4.0 points and 1.5 rebounds per game despite being limited by midseason illness. The explosiveness of the 5-9 guard from Riverside, Calif., on defense can change the complexion of the game. Her quickness also puts pressure on opposing defenses, while she has shown the ability to knock down the three.
"Brandi and T learned a lot from a year on the court, and during the offseason," Yori said. "Hopefully we can see them apply that this season."
Rebecca Woodberry, a 5-10 sophomore, could play a major role. A talented scorer, the 2010 Arizona High School Player of the Year averaged 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 31 games off the bench.
"Becca has proven she can score, and she gives us experience in the backcourt," Yori said. "She could play a pretty big role for us this year."
Nebraska improved its depth by adding freshmen Rachel Theriot, Sadie Murren and Courtney Aitken.
Theriot, a 6-0 point guard, ranked among the nation's top-100 prospects by multiple recruiting services. A three-time All-Ohio pick, she averaged 16.6 points, 11.0 assists and 6.0 boards at Midpark High School in 2011-12.
"We are really excited to add her to our team," Yori said. "She brings great size to the point guard position, and she can also play shooting guard. We love Rachel's versatility. She is an unselfish player who loves to set her teammates up to score. We think she could have a bright future at Nebraska."
Murren was a second-team All-Nebraska pick as a senior at Wahoo High School in 2012. Ranked among the top 250 prospects in the nation by several recruiting services, Murren was a three-time first-team Class C-1 All-State selection for the Warriors. She averaged 17.6 points per game as a senior, after averaging 16.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.0 steals as a junior. Murren also played with Emily Cady for the Cornhusker Shooting Stars.
"We're excited about Sadie joining our team," Yori said. "She can shoot the three and get to the basket, but I think her toughness sets her apart. She has been well-coached, and we expect her to immediately bolster our backcourt."
Although she was offered a basketball scholarship to Nebraska-Kearney, Aitken chose to walk on with the Huskers and follow a childhood dream. The 5-9 guard is from the same hometown - Dannebrog (pop. 306) - as former NU starting point guard Jina Johansen (2002-05).
A first-team Class C-2 All-State pick in 2012, Aitken averaged 17.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists as a senior at Centura High School.
"Courtney loves Nebraska basketball, and she is already proving herself as a great teammate," Yori said. "She is pretty athletic and gives us more size at the guard spot. She is a solid rebounder, and a pretty good passer and defender. She is also an outstanding communicator."
While Nebraska will have more talent, depth and experience than a year ago, the Huskers will face a much more difficult schedule. NU will play 20 games against teams that won 18 or more contests in 2011-12, including 18 against postseason teams. Twelve of NU's 29 regular-season games will come against 2012 NCAA Tournament teams. The Big Ten also sent a record seven teams to the NCAA Tournament last year.
"We think we have put together another top-25 schedule," Yori said. "We will be tested early and often in the non-conference season in what could be the toughest non-conference schedule we've ever had here at Nebraska.
"Just because we've got more experience and depth doesn't necessarily mean we're going to win more games. But in the end, we might be a better basketball team than we were last year, even if we have a few more losses."