March 19, 2015

Nebraska limps into the NCAA Tournament without top scorer Rachel Theriot, while Syracuse is looking to finally leave a mark as it makes a third straight appearance.

The ninth-seeded Cornhuskers will need to show some consistency from the field if they're going to beat the eighth-seeded Orange in the first-ever matchup Friday night in Columbia, South Carolina.

Nebraska (21-10) was ranked 19th after starting the season 17-4 with Theriot leading the way with 16.5 points and 5.2 assists per game. The junior guard, though, tore a ligament in her left ankle and was lost for the season.

The Cornhuskers have gone 4-6 without her and been feast or famine during that stretch. They're averaging 74.3 points on 46.8 percent shooting in the wins while hitting 31.1 percent with 54.5 points per game in the losses.

That was the case in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, as Nebraska made 32.4 percent from the floor while losing 74-65 to then-No. 14 Iowa.

"We lost an All-American. At the stage that we lost her, I think that's where we were challenged the most," coach Connie Yori said. "Our games are so condensed (in the Big Ten). We just haven't had a lot of practice opportunities without her until recently, which I think has been a good thing."

Seniors Tear'a Laudermill and Emily Cady and freshman Natalie Romeo are trying to pick up the slack. Laudermill is averaging 14.9 points in the 10 games without Theriot, while Cady and Romeo are scoring 12.3 and 12.2.

Laudermill and Cady combined for 28 points in the fourth-seeded Huskers' 74-55 win over Fresno State in the opening round last season. Nebraska then fell 80-76 to BYU despite 22 points from Laudermill and 13 from Cady.

Syracuse (21-9) is aiming to build on last year's modest success in the tournament. The Orange, a six seed, beat Chattanooga 59-53 in the opening round for the first NCAA win in team history before falling 64-59 to third-seeded Kentucky.

Coach Quentin Hillsman has loftier goals this time.

"We're going into the tournament thinking we are one of 64 teams that could win a national championship and it's great to be in that position," he said. "Coming into this tournament obviously our goal is to play well and play clean basketball and to win the game."

The Orange will need to shore up their defense after being upset 85-79 by 13th-seeded Wake Forest in the second round of the ACC tournament. They allowed the Demon Deacons to shoot 53.7 percent from the floor - 7 of 14 from 3-point range.

Alexis Peterson had a career-high 34 points while hitting 12 of 17 field goals. The sophomore guard leads Syracuse with 15.7 points per game, and Brianna Butler adds 13.3.

The junior guard, though, has shot 24.2 percent - 5 of 21 from long range - while totaling 22 points in the last two games after averaging 19.8 over the previous four.

The winner of this game will face top-seeded South Carolina or No. 16 seed Savannah State on Sunday.

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