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LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska coach Connie Yori gathered her team on the first day of preseason practice and handed out Big Ten tournament championship rings to her returning players.
"Not like there was a big drum roll," Yori said. "It was like, 'Here's something we accomplished, and it's something we'd like to do again.' "
The small ceremony in a meeting room was meant to set the tone for the seven newcomers.
"The seniors and people on the team last year were just hyped, and that hyped up the freshmen," senior guard Tear'a Laudermill said. "So much motivation and good bonding."
The Cornhuskers are 75-25 the last three years and looking to make the NCAA tournament for an unprecedented fourth straight season. The No. 16 Huskers return four starters and a couple of key reserves from the team that went 26-7 and finished third in the Big Ten regular season with a 12-4 mark.
Yori is going to need those newcomers to do their parts and offset the loss of Big Ten player of the year Jordan Hooper.
"Right now, we could take those seven kids and put them together and maybe we could make one Jordan," Yori said, "but we're not quite there yet."
Forward Emily Cady is bidding to become the fifth player in school history to amass 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. Cady and fellow forward Hailie Sample have started all 100 games in their careers.
Big Ten tournament MVP Rachel Theriot, who averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 assists, returns in the backcourt with Laudermill, who in conference play made 44.3 percent of her 3-pointers.
Some things to watch this season:
BEST RECRUITING CLASS: Yori's 2014 recruits make up a consensus top 10 class nationally, a first for Nebraska. The class is led by point guard Natalie Romeo of Martinez, California, and forward Darrien Washington of Oakland, California. They were teammates on the 2013 national championship-winning Cal Stars Elite club.
The Huskers also added the 6-foot-3 Anya Kalenta, a member of the Belarus under-20 national team who averaged better than 20 points and 10 rebounds in junior college last season.
OFF THE BENCH: The Huskers will be looking for more from 6-5 center Allie Havers, who played in all 33 games off the bench as a freshman and highlighted her season with a 17-point, three-block performance against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Guard Brandi Jeffery has played significant minutes off the bench the last three years.
PUSHING THE PACE: Yori plans to keep playing an up-tempo offense. "We push on makes and we push on misses, and there aren't a lot of teams that do that," she said. "We were a really good half-court execution team last year, too. But we were a team that focused on transition, and we got a lot of stuff in transition."
TOUGH SCHEDULE: In addition to facing Big Ten newcomers Maryland (No. 10) and Rutgers (No. 24), the Huskers play non-conference games at No. 23 UCLA and home against No. 7 Duke. The Huskers also go to Washington State, which won in Lincoln last season, and to Alabama. Nebraska is among five Big Ten teams in the Top 25 and four others are receiving votes.