Nebraska was the better team on Tuesday night in its own gym. By far.
The Cornhuskers thumped the Gophers and Amanda Zahui B. by a 74-50 score in a Big Ten game that probably was more important to the struggling home team than the visitors.
Nebraska had lost four of six and was in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. The Gophers had won five in a row and reached 22 wins -- second most in the conference.
And Minnesota came into the game with Zahui B. playing at her peak. Last week she had 39 points and a Big Ten record 29 rebounds in one game and 27 points and 27 rebounds in another.
Against the 'Huskers? Only 12 points, six rebounds.
"It wasn't her best night, give credit to Nebraska," Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said, "they did a good job on her defensively being physical around the basket. It, by far, was not her best night. I thought that they pushed her off the block too easily. She finally got going late, but at that point the score had gotten out of hand."
The Gophers were within 32-28 at halftime, but Nebraska opened the second half on a 20-2 run. Game over.
Nebraska's strategy for stopping Zahui was pretty basic. "Don’t let her catch the ball," Huskers coach Connie Yori said. "I’ve never seen anyone score a basket that doesn’t have the ball in their hands. If you don’t let her catch it, you don’t have to worry about it.
"I thought we played smart.You’re going to give up some shots when you do that, Shae Kelley hit some shots. We provided help off of her and some other kids, but you’re going to give something up. We held a team to 50 points who was averaging 70 to 75 points in conference."
Kelley had 17 points and 13 rebounds, but nobody else really hurt the Cornhuskers.
"You play percentages and we did a good job on [Zahui] and it was a collective effort on her," Yori said. "We don’t have the size to play her in a one-on-one setting. Allie [Havers] primarily guarded her with a lot of help coming. Their job is to make it hard to catch it and so was everyone elses."
It worked so well, Zahui only took nine shots. She made three for six points and had six more points on the free throw line, where she didn't miss.
"Obviously a really good win for us beating an upper tier team," Yori said. "We played really well on both ends. We played our defensive game plan to a "T" and offensively our shot-making was as good as its been since we lost Rachel [Theriot]."
Theriot was the Cornhuskers' equivalent of Rachel Banham, the Gophers star guard out with a knee injury.
Since Theriot suffered a season-ending ankle injury in practice, Nebraska had gone 2-4 until beating the Gophers. Theriot was averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 assists.
Natalie Romeo, a freshman guard averaging seven points, picked up the offense on Tuesday. She made a career-high six three-pointers and had 21 points, 14 above her average.
"Natalie was in the gym [Tuesday] after class and you know, she hasn't shot it that well recently," Yori said. "She's a kid that puts the work in though. She was in there working on her shot. She's the kid that works, so she deserves to make those shots. She was shooting really well in warm-ups."
Nebraska, which had been tied for third in the Big Ten before its recent slide, is now 20-8, 10-7.
"Our seniors across the board were locked in and committed to playing a great game," Yori said. "I’m just really happy for them. Does this put us in the NCAA tournament? I’m sure that question will be asked. I’m not on the selection committee but I can't imagine a team with 20 wins and 10 wins in this league that that win didn’t put us in. There are a lot of reasons this was a really good win for us."
The Gophers, who fell from a tie for third in the Big Ten to sixth with the loss, are 22-7, 11-6.