In the only opening day contest pitting two Top-25 teams against each other, No. 17/12 Nebraska blew past No. 25 UCLA, 77-49, in Lincoln’s Pinnacle Bank Arena Friday behind 27 points from Husker All-American Jordan Hooper.
The first-ever match-up for the Huskers in their new home, the $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena, drew a crowd of 9,750, a school record for a non-conference game.
"What a great way to start the season," Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. "We had a great crowd and a great atmosphere and we played pretty well, too."
Hooper, a 6-2 senior forward from Alliance, Neb., who is featured on this year’s Wade and Wooden preseason watch lists, erupted for her 27th career double-double with game highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds. Nineteen of those points came in the first half, propelling the Huskers to a 40-20 halftime lead.
The two-time first-team All-Big Ten performer hit seven-of-9 first-half shots, including a pair of three-pointers as Nebraska pulled away from UCLA. For the game, Hooper hit 9-of-14 shots from the field and a near-perfect seven-of-eight free throws. She added a steal in 32 minutes of work.
UCLA ranked No. 25 in the 2013-14 preseason Coaches’ Poll and were unranked but received 70 votes in the AP preseason poll after winning 26 games a year ago. But the seriously undermanned Bruins were able to dress only six players due to injuries and simply had no answer for Hooper.
UCLA drew first blood and hung around for the first nine minutes. But with Nebraska up19-13 with 9:24 to go in the first half, the Huskers launched a 14-0 run to break the game open. The Bruins never got closer than 15 points thereafter, though they did tighten up on defense, limiting the hemorrhaging to a 37-29 points differential in Nebraska’s favor the second half.
Nebraska, predicted to top the Big 10 this season, dominated in virtually every significant statistical category. Both teams committed 15 turnovers, and UCLA’s Lulana Livula and Atonye Nyingifa combined for three blocks to none for the hosts. But otherwise, it was a romp for the Huskers, who grabbed a 44-23 advantage on the glass, and shot 50.9 percent from the field (28-55) while holding the Bruins to just 34 percent (18-23).
If there was one area of weakness for the Huskers it came from behind the arc, where Nebraska hit just three-of-14 (21.4 percent). But the Bruins fared no better in that department, netting four-of-19 (21.1 percent) from three-point range.
Junior forward Emily Cady added 12 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists to help power the Huskers' inside game. Cady scored the first official points by a Husker and knocked down the first three-pointer in Pinnacle Bank Arena history. Six-five freshman center Allie Havers chipped in 14 points and three boards in just 15 minutes on the floor.
Junior guard Brandi Jeffery added nine points – six of them coming in the decisive 14-0 first-half Husker that permanently shifted the momentum of the game – plus four rebounds, four assists and two steals in a starting role for the Huskers, while sophomore point guard Rachel Theriot logged a career-high nine assists, contributing heavily to Nebraska’s 21 assists on 28 made baskets.
"I thought we passed the ball really well today," Yori said. "It is amazing how much easier the game gets when you pass the ball well and talk to your teammates. I thought we communicated better today as well, which we emphasized a lot during the week. It was a good start."
Senior guard Thea Lemberger led the Bruins with 17 points and four assists. Nyingifa added 12 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore Nirra Fields rounded out the UCLA players in double figures with 11 points.
The Bruins head home to Los Angeles for Monday’s Veteran’s Day home opener against Pepperdine, scheduled for tip-off at 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST). UCLA, which boasts one of the nation’s toughest early non-conference schedules, hosts No. 12/11 North Carolina a week from Sunday (Nov. 17) with a date with the No. 11/14 Sooners looming a week later.
Next up for the Huskers is the Crimson Tide, who will visit Lincoln on Monday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. Central (8 p.m. EST). Nebraska will not face another nationally ranked team until Dec. 4, when they take to the road against the Tar Heels in the annual Big 10/ACC Challenge.
Today's Other Top-25 Action
- No. 4 Tennessee 67, Middle Tennessee State 57. In what looked for a while like it might be a reprise of last season's 80-71 opening day loss at Chattanooga, No. 4-ranked Tennessee got off to a slow start in Friday's opener at Middle Tennessee. The Lady Vols trailed, 34-22, at the half, but rallied behind a 14-0 run that opened the second stanza to cruise to a 67-57 win by the final buzzer. Junior Isabelle Harrison led the Vols with 13 points and seven boards; junior Ariel Massengale notched 12 points and dealt out five assists; freshman Mercedes Russell added 11 points, and Andraya Carter, returning from last season's injury, tacked on 10 points, including two key 3-pointers. Ebony Russell paced the Blue Raiders with a 21-point, 16-rebound double-double. Shanice Cason also doubled up with 10 points and 10 rebounds for unranked MTSU.
- No. 7/8 Kentucky 75, Marist 61. Marist might not be nationally ranked, but Brian Giorgis's charges can be counted on to give any team a game, and that's exactly what they did in Friday's season opener in Poughkeepsie. The shorthanded Red Foxes, missing star guard Casey Dulin (foot surgery), 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Delaney Hollenbeck and 6-2 junior Tori Jarosz but riding the enthusiasm of a sellout home crowd of 3,200, led for much of the game's first 10 minutes. But down 15-8 six minutes into the opening half, the Wildcats' defense battened down, denying Marist a single field goal for the next 12 minutes, and intermission found Kentucky was on top, 39-26. The Wildcats stretched that lead to 17 points in the second half. Down but not out, the Red Foxes rallied with an 11-0 run to finish the half having matched the Cats nearly point for point, 36-35. But it's the final score -- and not the tally by halves -- that matters, giving Kentucky its first "W" of the season behind 15 points and eight boards from high scorer Kastine Evans. Janee Thompson added 13 points and three assists for the Wildcats; Jennifer O'Neill came off the bench for 11 points; and Bria Goss logged 10 points. Marist guard Leanne Ockenden led all scorers with 16 points for the losing side; Katharine Fogarty came off the bench for 11; and Emma O'Connor tacked on 10.
- No. 8/6 Maryland 78, South Florida 70. The unranked South Florida Bulls also gave visiting No. 8/6 Maryland all it could handle in today's opener. But though the Terp starters struggled with cold cold shooting and foul trouble that saw none of them exceed the six-point mark, All-American Alyssa Thomas held scoreless and the entire starting rotation limited to a cumulative 14 points for the night, the reserves came to the rescue. Back from last year's ACL tear, redshirt junior Laurin Mincy came off the bench with 15 points to lead the Terps; freshman Shatori-Walker Kimbrough contributed 12; and fellow frosh Lexie Brown added 11, plus six assists; and redshirt sophomore Brene Mosely, also coming off a knee injury, tacked on 10, including critical free throws down the stretch. Courtney Williams posted a career-high 21 points for the Bulls to lead all scorers. USF sophomore Alisia Jenkins added a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double, as the Bulls battled Maryland, which ranked second in the nation in rebounding last season, to a 49-49 tie on the glass. Newcomer Tamara Taylor, a junior transfer, debuted with 14 points, and redshirt sophomore point guard Shalethia Stringfield rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 for the Bulls, who closed to within four points with under a minute left to play but were unable to close the gap.
- No. 9 California 70, Long Beach State 51. The Golden Bears sailed to an easy win in their opener against Long Beach State, but the game was worthy of mention for two reasons. First, Cal unfurled the banner from its first-ever Final Four appearance last season. Second, though she came off the bench for just six points in 13 minutes on the floor, Gennifer Brandon is decidedly back. Playing with a rod implanted in her right leg to alleviate recurring stress fractures, Brandon described her emotions as "a little apprehensive" at first, but "wonderful" after swatting down a blocked shot exactly three months after underdoing surgery to repair her damaged fibia. Afure Jemerigbe led Cal with 13 points and Rashanda Gray added 10 in a game that saw the bench get plenty of action. Long Beach State's Lauren Spargo led all scorers with 15 points and freshman Anna Kim came off the bench for 11 on four-of-seven field-goal shooting in her collegiate debut.
- No. 15/17 LSU 86, Stephen F. Austin 58. No. 15/17 LSU encountered little trouble in breezing past unranked Stephen F. Austin in its season opener, which was also its first game in the Preseason Women's National Invitational Tournament. Five-nine guard DaShawn Harden, a junior college All-American, logged 20 points in her LSU debut. Watch-lister Theresa Plaisance and sophomore guard Danielle Ballard added 18 points apiece, while notching eight and seven rebounds, respectively, and Raigyne Moncrief rounded out a balanced scoring attack by the starting five with 10 points. Ballard and Moncrief also handed out six assists apiece. Junior center Porsha Roberts paced the Ladyjacks with a game-high 21 points. The game was noteworthy for its dedication to the memory of the late Sue Gunter, who spent a combined 40 seasons as head coach at both Stephen F. Austin and LSU. The Naismith Hall of Famer won 708 games, leading the Lady Tigers to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances.
- No. 25/RV 68 Gonzaga 64, Idaho 56. The Zags ground out a narrow first-round Preseason WNIT victory over unranked Idaho in their season opener in Spokane Friday despite shooting an icy 32.8 percent (21-64) from the field and an even worse 15.8 percent (three-of-19) from beyond the arc. Haiden Palmer (18 points, seven boards) and Keani Albanez (13 points) were the bright spots in an otherwise desultory night for the Bulldogs.
- No. 11/14 Oklahoma 78, Stetson 60. The lopsided victory also represented a Sooner win in their opening Preseason WNIT game. They advance to face Wichita State on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern, 2 p.m. local.
- No. 12/11 North Carolina 77, Air Force 49. Enough said.
- No. 13/15 Penn State 117, St. Francis (Pa.) 77.
- No. 21/22 Oklahoma State 83, Lamar 56.
- No. 22/21 South Carolina 99, Charleston Southern 29. Narrowly edging out the Lions and the Cowgirls for the prize for softest scheduling.
Coming Up: Kudos to both Connie Yori and Cori Close for putting their teams’ national rankings to the test from the get-go, while much of the rest of the Top 25 have started the new season with “confidence builders,” padding their win-loss records against powder-puff opponents. Still, there will be several games well worth watching on this three-day weekend’s schedule:
Saturday, Nov. 9: No Top-25 match-ups scheduled.
Sunday, Nov. 10: No. 3 Duke @ No. 9 California. (3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. EST -- ESPNU)
Monday, Nov. 11:
- No. 1 Connecticut v. No. 3 Stanford (7 p.m. EST – ESPN2)
- No. 4 Tennessee @ No. 12/11 North Carolina (9 p.m. EST – ESPN2)
- No. 8 Notre Dame v. No. 20/18 Michigan State (7 p.m. EST – not nationally televised)
In addition, No. 5 Louisville, No. 11/14 Oklahoma, No. 15/17 LSU and No. 25/RV 68 Gonzaga are all competing in the Preseason WNIT where they may face meaningful competition late this coming week should they advance through the early rounds.
Friday's Round One Preseason WNIT Results (Nov. 8)
- Wichita State 69, IPFW 46
- Quinnipiac 77, North Carolina A&T 63
- UT Martin 84, Georgia State 80
- Saint Joseph’s 85, Mount St. Mary’s 57
- Oklahoma 78, Stetson 60
- LSU 86, Stephen F. Austin 58
Saturday's Round One Preseason WNIT Schedule (Nov. 9)
- Loyola Chicago @ No. 5 Louisville, 7 p.m. ET
Sunday's Round Two Preseason WNIT Schedule (Nov. 10)
- Saint Joseph's @ No. 15/17 LSU, 3 p.m. ET
- Wichita State @ No. 11/14 Oklahoma, 3 p.m. ET
- UT Martin @ No. 25/RV 68 Gonzaga, 5 p.m. ET
Source: Portions of this story were obtained from press releases issued by Nebraska Media Relations and UCLA Sports Information.