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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A 5-9 sophomore point guard from Covington, Wash., is emerging into a future star in college basketball, and a 6-2 freshman forward from Alliance, Neb., wants to follow in her footsteps. Somehow, through joint disappointment and a shared sneak peak at the future, both managed to cry and smile at the same time here Tuesday when Nebraska ended a 13-18 season one year after its 2010 magic carpet ride that included an unbeaten regular season and an appearance in the NCAA Women's Basketball Sweet 16.
Underrated Lindsey Moore scored 13 points and had nine assists to reinforce her reputation as that future college star, and understated Jordan Hooper contributed 16 points and 7 rebounds in Nebraska's 69-61 opening-round loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference Championship.
Individual stats are small consolation for an injury-riddled team that battled valiantly all season, but here's the good news: A well-polished gem like Moore and a raw freshman talent like Hooper are both battle-tested competitors who want to lead the Huskers back to some promised land in the Big Ten Conference next season.
Clearly, Moore and Hooper have what it takes to help the Huskers climb in the Big Ten next year.
Make no mistake. Moore and Hooper are the cornerstones for the future of Nebraska women's basketball, and they were ready to assume that role immediately after post-game interviews at Municipal Auditorium.
"Next year doesn't start tomorrow. It starts right now - as soon as we walk out this door," a tearful Hooper said in the hallway following obligatory interviews in the conference media room. "I'm really excited about next year and just getting to play with Lindsey for two more years because she's just awesome," Hooper said. "She's probably the best point guard in the whole country."
Moore Best Point Guard Yori's Ever Coached
Don't laugh. Even though the characteristically understated Hooper was already showing signs of moving out of her comfort zone with what might be considered an outrageous statement for her, she wasn't the only one going out on a limb.
"Lindsey had a phenomenal year. In fact, she had as good a year this year as anyone on our team had last year," said Nebraska Head Coach Connie Yori, who won five National Coach of the Year awards just one year ago.
Yori realizes that some of you, right now, might feel like asking: Are you crazy?
But let's listen to two meaningful closing arguments before weighing in with our own verdict.
"Lindsey really did have a phenomenal year, even though it wasn't recognized by the Big 12 coaches overall," Yori said. "It's not because of what Lindsey did. It's because of the Big 12 season we had. I'll tell you what. Lindsey is clearly the best point guard I've ever coached, and she played on a team that didn't have a lot of scoring options. The defensive focus put on her was a lot to shoulder, and she shouldered it like a champ."
Let's now turn to Jeff Griesch, the media relations director and color analyst for Nebraska women's basketball. "Although we've struggled a lot this year, especially with injuries to key backcourt players, Lindsey really is emerging into a future star in college basketball," he said.
Simply put, in the last month, the pass-first point guard that helped Nebraska to a Big 12 title, the Huskers' first Sweet 16 and a No. 1 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament as a freshman "has transformed herself into a dangerous scoring threat from all areas of the floor while, at the same time, increasing her assist and rebounding numbers," Griesch said.
Here's More Statistical Ammunition for Moore
Last season, Moore also became the first freshman point guard in NCAA history to lead her team to an unbeaten regular season. This season, she was the only Big 12 guard (not just point guard) to average more than 15.0 points and 4.0 assists in conference games only, averaging 17.0 points and 5.9 assists in league games. Those numbers are comparable to Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson, a 2010 first-team All-America point guard that averaged 19.2 points and a 3.8 assists this season against the same competition.
As impressive as Moore's numbers are, Hooper's freshman production doesn't exactly take a back seat. She led all Big 12 freshmen in rebounding and ranked second among all league rookies with 67 three-pointers - a total that shattered the previous NU freshman record of 46 set by Anna DeForge in 1994-95.
Against Iowa State Tuesday, Hooper missed some tough 3-pointers down the stretch of Nebraska's upset bid. "I told Jordan, she can make those shots, even in her sleep and to keep shooting," Moore said. "She's a great player. She's going to be a stud for us next year. I don't want her worrying about missing shots. Starting tonight, I'm going to make sure she knows where she's headed and where this team is headed next season. She's not only going to lead by example ... she's going to be a vocal leader, too."
Hooper is more than willing to take on roles beyond her own self-improvement program that includes this rapid-fire checklist: Get stronger; shoot better; go to the rim more; develop an inside game; put the ball on the floor; find shots that aren't always so tough; vastly improve her defense.
"I need to improve in pretty much every aspect of the game," Hooper said. "I have so much to learn and so much to do in the off-season, and I can't wait to get started. This year was so humbling for me. I've grown up so much. Everything I thought I was pretty good at really isn't all that great. But I can work hard and get better every day. That's why I'm here. If we put the work in, next year is going to be fun. It's going to be awesome."
Hooper on Pace to Equal or Surpass Griffin
Two trusting talents value their degrees from the school of hard knocks caused by a losing season and a powerful league that set defenses to confuse, confound and counteract everything Moore and Hooper had in their personal arsenals.
Like Moore, a case can be made for Hooper to become a future star in college basketball. She has, after all, exceeded Kelsey Griffin's freshman totals of 424 points and 192 rebounds in one less game.
Hooper is a much more dangerous long-range shooter than Griffin, and she might as well get used to the comparative analysis between two prized 6-2 Husker forwards, one of whom became an All-American and the other who arrived with equal potential in the same year that Griffin left for the WNBA. The biggest similarity between the two is the essence of Nebraska Athletics. Both see the world in team terms, not individual honors.
As Hooper progresses in her career, she will focus on improving skills with her back to the basket and as an attacking finisher to the rim. Once she learns that, she'll also benefit at the free throw line, a spot where Griffin made about twice as many as Hooper did as a freshman.
Hooper's faith to improve is tied to Moore, whose best-ever point guard accolade covers some elite company.
Griesch said he has all kinds of statistical evidence that shows Nebraska players get better year-by-year under Yori. "It does not happen that way everywhere in college basketball," he added.
Yori is excited to help Hooper reach heights between her freshman and sophomore season that she never would have imagined without the right blend of goal-setting, coaching and encouragement.
A Long Way to Go and a Short Time to Get There
"We knew Jordan wasn't fully ready to do what we wanted her to do," Yori said. "I just think that she's going to be a great player for us. She's going to develop other facets of her game that are really going to help her become a great all-around scorer. It's a complete night and day coming from Alliance, Nebraska, and having played very little club ball to being a player that is counted on to score on a regular basis in the Big 12. That's a complete shift, and Jordan's handled it well. Her demeanor and attitude and approach to things are phenomenal."
Tuesday, Yori acknowledged how exciting it is to have two young budding stars back, but she stressed how important it is "for everyone on this team to get better in the next six months." In true Yori fashion, she's also holding herself accountable. "We have to do a better job recruiting," she said, "and we have to do a better job of coaching."
Adversity has influenced growth, but Yori has experienced enough adversity in one year to last a decade.
"Lindsey has been a great leader for us, and Jordan is going to become a leader," Yori said. "My goodness, they were both resilient this year. It's not easy to lose and still come out every game and compete like those two did. They are competitors. I mean, as mild-mannered as Jordan is, you wouldn't necessarily expect that, but she's going to be a great one. She doesn't like to lose. Neither does Lindsey. They both won a lot of games in high school, and they're going to get us back here at Nebraska. We're going to be all right because they're going to lead the way."
Moore already influences recruits that want the chance to play with her in the Big Ten Conference next season, not to mention in one of college basketball's best arenas a year later. And if Hooper improves as much between her freshman and sophomore seasons as Moore did, she will become a recruiting magnet, too.
The N-Sider's Final Analysis: Valuable Personal Growth
Time for our final analysis:
Lindsey Moore, underrated? Yes, but that will change next season when a great passer and a creative shooter shows Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and the Big Ten Network how to score, feed, lead and improvise.
Jordan Hooper, understated? Indeed, but that will change because she's showing signs of coming out of her shell and apparently realizes that she's earned the right to let her current and future teammates know exactly what it takes to win.
Moore and Hooper undervalued? Not on your life, especially after the curtain finally came down on the toughest season that Moore and Hooper - and their head coach - hope they ever have.
Voices from Husker Nation
Excellent article on Lindsey Moore and Jordan Hooper! Chuck Bentjin, Lincoln, Nebraska
I'm an Alliance native and know how difficult college basketball is, especially when you draw extra attention like Jordan Hooper has drawn all season long in arguably the best women's basketball conference in the country. I think Jordan did a phenomenal job and has the right kind of attitude to get nothing but better and better. It will be fun to watch her mature and develop the skills she mentions in this article. I have no doubt she will work hard, strengthen her weaknesses and become a force in the future, all in the context of the team, of course. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California