The first shot hit the bulls-eye. Then the second, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth and the ninth.
And the rout was on.
Nebraska nailed eight of its first nine shots, including four three-pointers, and Penn State never recovered against the torrid Cornhuskers, who sank 16 of 22 3-point attempts and led by as many as 32 points in handing the No. 8 Lady Lions their worst loss of the season with a 94-74 romp Monday.
The No. 16 Cornhuskers’ triumph threw the Big Ten conference race up for grabs. Penn State (12-3), Nebraska (11-3) and Michigan State (11-3) all have a shot at the title. The Cornhuskers and Spartans, who defeated Minnesota 75-61 Monday, each have two games remaining this week, while Penn State (21-6 overall) closes its season Saturday against Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Tear’a Laudermill and her teammates made Penn State’s first trip to the new Pinnacle Bank Arena a miserable one. Laurdermill scored a career-high 27 points, while drilling 7 of 10 from 3-point range. Jordan Hooper (19), Rachel Theriot (17) and Emily Cady (14) also scored in double figures for the Cornhuskers (21-5), who won their eighth straight.
“I made a brazen comment before the game that we needed to make some perimeter shots,” said Nebraska coach Connie Yori, whose team shot close to 70 percent for most of the game before cooling off to 57 percent (33 of 58). “Our players didn’t need coaching tonight. They just needed to go out and play. If you hit shots like that, it makes the game easy.
“It’s just one of those days. Shooting is that way. You get it going and you feel it. The rim becomes like a big barrel.”
Penn State, despite a 24-point night from Ariel Edwards, never led. The Lady Lions were tied briefly at 5-5 following an Edwards 3-pointer, but Nebraska began pulling away thanks to its prowess from long distance. The Cornhuskers made 11 of 14 3-point attempts in the first half against a Penn State team that had held its opponents to 29.4 percent shooting from behind the arc.
“They do a good job of pushing the ball in transition and we had a tough time matching up,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “They shot well from the field and they got a lot of open shots. They got a lot of wide open looks and when you give a team like Nebraska wide open looks they can take advantage of them.
“They came out and made some shots early and the crowd got into it. That gave them an extra boost of energy and we didn’t really get going defensively until the second half.”
Edwards’ 16 points kept Penn State alive for most of the half, but the senior headed to the bench with three fouls with 2:08 left in the half. The Cornhuskers scored the final 11 points of the half to take a 52-30 lead.
Laudermill, who came in averaging 10.6 points, sank 6 of 8 3-pointers and had 22 points at the break.
“Coach gave me the green light, so I kept shooting,” Laudermill said.
“She’s been playing well for them all season long,” Washington said. “I don’t know that she’s had a game where she’s made seven 3s. Once she hit a couple, I guess she was feeling it and that got her going.”
Only three Lady Lions scored in the first half and one of them wasn’t reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Maggie Lucas. Played primarily by the taller Hailie Sample, Lucas was 0 for 5 from the floor and had trouble even touching the ball in the Lady Lion offense.
“They just made it hard for her to get looks where she could catch and shoot,” Washington said of Lucas. “They sagged off a couple of other people and took away driving lanes. It was nothing that we haven’t seen all year. We’ve done a better job of executing against that type of defense than we did tonight.”
Lucas didn’t make a field goal until 14:16 left in the game. A few minutes later, Theriot drilled another 3-pointer to give the Cornhuskers their biggest lead at 75-43.
Penn State did make the home faithful a little uneasy with a 14-1 run to get to within 76-57 with eight minutes left, but Hooper’s 3-point play stemmed the outburst as the Cornhuskers cruised to end their three-game losing streak to the Lady Lions.
“They kind of had our number for two years, and we couldn’t really do anything against them,” Hooper said. “Finally, we came out with more fire in our eyes and more focus, so we were ready.”
Though hampered by foul trouble, Edwards tied a career high with her 24 points. She made 10 of 13 from the floor.
“She was really aggressive and when she’s aggressive she’s really good,” Washington said of Edwards. “She did a good job of guarding Jordan Hooper. Ariel did a good job of limiting her to getting off only nine shots.”
Lucas had 17 in the second half and finished 5 of 18 from the floor. Dara Taylor added 10 points
Washington said her team “wasn’t happy” with the loss, but expects the Lady Lions to bounce back.
“We’ve been a pretty resilient team all year long,” Washington said. “We’ll figure it out and make the adjustments we need to make. We’ll be ready to go against Michigan on Saturday.”