LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — On an afternoon Nebraska honored Jordan Hooper and her hometown of Alliance, the sophomore forward put on a performance that surely made the folks back home proud.
Hooper scored 15 of her game-high 23 points in the first half and started the No. 20 Cornhuskers on the decisive run in their 64-49 victory over Minnesota.
A good number of people from her hometown — with a population of 8,000 — made the six-hour drive to Lincoln for the game. Another 700 people were expected to watch the game on television at a community center in Alliance.
“That’s cool,” she said of the support. “I’m really thankful to have fans and am really proud to say I’m from Alliance. I hope they keep watching.”
Hooper hit one of her four 3-pointers from the top of the key to start a 23-2 run in which Nebraska scored 20 straight points. She scored 12 of the Huskers’ last 14 points of the half, and a close game turned into a blowout.
The Huskers (16-3, 5-2) ended a two-game losing streak and pulled into a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten with Michigan and Penn State, 1 1/2 games behind league-leading Purdue.
“This was a very big game for us,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “We say every game is the biggest game of the year, but I told our kids this is the biggest of the biggest. Coming off two losses and having the opportunity to come back home, we thought it was pretty critical to get this one. You don’t want to lose three in a row, that’s for sure.”
Minnesota (11-10, 3-4), which lost for the third time in four games, posted its lowest point total of the season.
Freshman Emily Cady added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Hailie Sample had a career-high 10 points and seven rebounds for the Huskers. Hooper, who started her 50th consecutive game, had six rebounds and Lindsey Moore had eight assists.
Rachel Banham had 13 points and Leah Cotton 10 to lead the Gophers, who shot 35.5 percent and committed 19 turnovers.
“I felt like we really came to play,” Hooper said. “We were really good on defense tonight, which was good to see because that’s been hit-and-miss the past two games. Tonight, I felt we brought it.”
Tear’a Laudermill converted Moore’s no-look pass into a layup for a 36-23 halftime lead, and Sample’s short jumper made it 47-23 with 15 minutes left.
Minnesota was held scoreless for 10 1/2 minutes bridging halftime, missing 11 straight shots and committing seven turnovers in between field goals.
“We got caught up into their style,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “We needed to play with more poise. We got caught up into feeling rushed out there. Offensively, they put a lot of pressure on you in how they push the ball. Defensively, they put a lot of pressure on the basketball.”
The Gophers missed an abundance of point-blank shots three days after shooting 48 percent in a 71-65 victory over defending regular-season champion Michigan State.
“We needed a few more of those shots around the rim to fall in,” Borton said.
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