Home is calling Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers are eager to answer.
With a chance to have home-court advantage in the regionals of the NCAA Women’s tournament, fourth-seeded Nebraska aims to get two wins on the West Coast to reward their fans as they take on Fresno State in the first round at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Nebraska (25-6) is peaking at the right time, coming off its first Big Ten tournament title in school history and has won 12 of 13 games. Jordan Hooper, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game and the school’s all-time leader with 289 3-pointers, was the conference player of the year and had two double-doubles in the Cornhuskers’ three Big Ten tournament victories.
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”We just really want to stay alive so that we can keep her around,” Huskers forward Hailie Sample said.
Nebraska also has a pair of solid-shooting guards in Rachel Theriot and Tear’a Laudermill to help make space for Hooper. The duo sank 96 shots from beyond the arc and each averaged in double figures, with Theriot contributing 14.3 points and 6.9 assists per game and Laudermill scoring 11.5 per contest.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Laudermill, who is from Canyon Springs, Calif.
"It means a lot. I’m really blessed to be back home in front of family especially," Laudermill said at Friday’s media session. "So it means a lot to me."
The Cornhuskers also are proficient rebounders, averaging 5.8 more than opponents. Emily Cady grabs almost every rebound Hooper doesn’t, totaling 9.1 per game to go with her team-high 25 blocks.
If Nebraska can emerge from Los Angeles with two victories, it would then play in Lincoln for the round of 16.
The 13th seed, Fresno State (22-10) is no stranger to the field of 64 as it makes its seventh straight appearance. But the Bulldogs have failed to register a win in their previous six showings, and they are eager to finally rid themselves of that dubious distinction and perhaps use nearby Los Angeles as a home-court advantage of their own.
"I don’t think that’s good enough for us anymore,” fifth-year senior Taylor Thompson said about reaching the NCAA tournament. ”We definitely want this win.”
Thompson was MVP of the Mountain West Conference tournament, averaging 20.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.7 rebounds in Fresno State’s three victories. She leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game, while Bree Farley and Alex Sheedy are the Bulldogs’ other top scoring options, contributing 13.8 and 13.0 points per game, respectively.
Fresno State is a solid defensive team, yielding only 63.4 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting – 28.2 percent from 3-point range.
The winner of this game will play the winner of the N.C. State-BYU game in the second round on Monday.