INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Rachel Theriot saw her teammates struggling Sunday, the sophomore point guard went into championship mode.
She took open shots, passed when warranted and willed No. 16 Nebraska to victory.
Theriot opened the second half by scoring the Cornhuskers’ first nine points and sealed it by accounting for six more in a decisive 8-3 run that helped the Cornhuskers outlast No. 23 Iowa 72-65 for the Big Ten tournament title — Nebraska’s first conference tourney championship.
“She’s just got a great feel for when to make plays, and that’s a great attribute for someone that young,” coach Connie Yori said. “She knew we were struggling (offensively) and she needed to take shots.”
It was a remarkable three-day stretch for Theriot.
She finished with 14 points, 18 assists and five rebounds in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Minnesota. She came back with 18 points and eight assists in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Michigan State. Then Sunday, Theriot scored 19 of her 24 points in the second half and pushed her three-day assist total to a tourney record 30.
The only thing she didn’t have a major hand in was Nebraska’s 58-27 rebounding advantage. The Cornhuskers had three players with at least 10 rebounds, led by Hailie Sample’s career-high 15, and finished with an astounding 58-27 advantage, including a 26-6 edge on the offensive end.
But Theriot was the obvious choice as the tourney’s most outstanding player.
“She kept her calm. She kept her cool,” Big Ten player of the year Jordan Hooper said after finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “She did a great job passing the ball and a great job taking shots when she had them.”
Without Theriot, the Huskers (25-6) probably would not have been standing in the confetti that streamed down from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse rafters and then was sprayed onto the victory stand by a blower. Nebraska now heads into NCAA tournament play with 12 wins in 13 games.
Iowa (26-8) also should be NCAA bound even though it fell short of becoming the first Big Ten women’s team to win four times in four days in the tournament.
Ally Disterhoft scored 20 points and Samantha Logic had 14 on a day the Hawkeyes made eight 3-pointers but saw their six-game winning streak end.
The reasons for this loss, Iowa’s eighth straight to Nebraska, were obvious: rebounding and the Cornhuskers’ huge free-throw disparity. Nebraska was 30 of 36. Iowa was 11 of 14.
“It’s hard to win those types of games with numbers like that,” coach Lisa Bluder said.
Bluder was partly to blame, too. She drew a technical foul after stomping her foot before Tear’a Laudermill could attempt her second free throw with 4:43 to go and the Hawkeyes down 58-56. Theriot then stepped to the line, made both foul shots, and Laudermill made the next one to extend the lead to 61-56.
Iowa never got closer than three again.
“I take full responsibility for it. It was a bad time to get it,” Bluder said, explaining she was trying to get the attention of her players instead of the officials. “I apologized to my team immediately for it.”
Iowa closed to 57-56 when Disterhoft made three free throws with 7:13 to play, but Bluder’s technical and Theriot’s late surge sealed the win.
“I was a little hot, obviously,” Theriot said. “My teammates got me the ball and when I was open, I took shots. When I wasn’t, I passed it.”