No. 24 Nebraska 73, Chattanooga 59

March 24, 2013

All Jordan Hooper needed was some encouraging words.

Hooper scored 18 of her 21 points in the second half to help Nebraska rally past Chattanooga 73-59 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday night.

The Big Ten's fifth-leading scorer, Hooper went 1 for 5 from the field in the first half and got a pep talk from teammates and coaches at the break.

She wouldn't reveal what was said to her. Just that it worked.

''They just gave me different things, different confidence boosters,'' Hooper said. ''Just kind of got me going internally.''

Hooper also grabbed 12 rebounds and Lindsey Moore added 13 points for Nebraska, which won for the 12th time in 14 games.

The sixth-seeded Cornhuskers (24-8) will play third-seeded Texas A&M (25-9) on Monday night. The Aggies advanced with a 71-45 victory over No. 14 seed Wichita State.

Taylor Hall scored 13 and Alex Black had 12 for the 11th-seeded Lady Mocs (29-4), who had won 19 in a row. Chattanooga wilted when Nebraska switched to a man-to-man defense midway through the second half.

The Cornhuskers had planned to play a zone defense to force the Lady Mocs to shoot from outside and neutralize 6-foot-3 Ashlen Dewart, Chattanooga's leading scorer. But Hooper noticed a heightened intensity when coach Connie Yori ordered the switch to man-to-man.

''You could definitely see the look,'' Hooper said. ''We were more focused in on the player, getting the stop. We needed the stops, we needed the ball, so that was a concerted effort.''

The Lady Mocs trailed 58-57 with eight minutes left, then mustered only one field goal the rest of the way, a layup by Tatianna Jackson with 5:22 left.

''From that point on we had a hard time getting looks,'' said Chattanooga guard Kayla Christopher, who went 4 for 15 from the field. ''They turned the pressure up on D and it definitely got to us.''

Chattanooga has lost six consecutive NCAA tournament games since a 74-69 upset of Rutgers in the first round in 2004.

''We needed to attack the basket more,'' Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said. ''It just comes back to the fact that they really turned up the heat and we didn't handle it well.''

The Cornhuskers led the Big Ten in made 3-pointers during the regular season, but Chattanooga was the team connecting from long range for most of the game.

The Lady Mocs sank six 3s in the first half, nearly matching their per-game average, and Black added two more in the first five minutes after the break. Chattanooga opened the second half with a 15-6 run to go up 47-38.

''We were down nine, it's not looking good,'' Yori said. ''We could have easily folded up the tent and headed back to Lincoln. But our players did a really good job when we switched defenses about the 11-minute mark. They did a really good job of responding and playing personnel.''

The Cornhuskers attacked inside to slowly cut into the deficit. Emily Cady spun around a defender for a layup, drew a foul and sank the free throw to trim the gap to 47-44 with 13 minutes to go. Hall flipped in a bank shot over her shoulder before Rachel Theriot hit another 3 to pull Nebraska within two.

Then Hooper took control.

She hit her first 3-pointer of the game with 10:28 left to lift the Huskers to a 50-49 advantage. The lead changed hands five times over the next four minutes as the pace quickened and both teams started generating easy baskets.

Moore intercepted a pass and raced in for a breakaway layup and Hooper swished a 3 from the corner as Nebraska finally started to pull away. The 3-pointers dried up for Chattanooga and Yori kept calling plays for Hooper, who swished her third 3 with 3:28 left to put the Cornhuskers up 68-59 with 3:28 left.

''That gives me a lot of confidence, that she has confidence in me,'' Hooper said. ''If she's going to put me in that position, I'm going to shoot it. It doesn't go in, it doesn't go in. But if it does, that's pretty cool.''

Hooper got a friendly bounce on another 3 from the top of the key a minute later and held her pose as the ball fell through the hoop and the Nebraska bench erupted.

The Cornhuskers closed the game with a 15-2 run. Chattanooga finished 10 for 28 from beyond the arc, but made only four after halftime. The Lady Mocs started 4 for 6 from 3-point range to take the early lead.