Randy York’s N-Sider
Isn’t it interesting that the first basketball tip in Pinnacle Bank Arena history was Jordan Hooper out jumping a UCLA Bruin center, and the last second she played as a Husker hoopster was on UCLA’s fabled Pauley Pavilion floor in a heart-breaking NCAA Tournament loss to BYU in Los Angeles? In an odd way, fate dealt a difficult hand to Connie Yori’s team, which missed a golden opportunity to play No. 1-ranked Connecticut Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at PBA. Talk about a kicker: Somehow, UCLA is still woven into the fabric of this weekend’s NCAA Lincoln Regional because on Thursday Yori called UConn, 36-0 and the Big Dance’s No. 1 overall seed, the female program equivalent of UCLA under John Wooden. The Wizard of Westwood is still the incomparable man with an untouchable record – 10 NCAA Championships in a 12-year span. But Geno Auriemma, UConn’s legendary coach, has won eight NCAA Championships over a 19-year span. If he has enough shining moments in this weekend’s Sweet 16 in Lincoln and the following week’s Final Four in Nashville, Auriemma will surpass Pat Summitt’s eight National Championships at Tennessee.
With history draping all over this weekend’s Lincoln Regional, Yori has a simple request for all Nebraska women’s basketball fans and other Husker fans who appreciate collegiate athletics at the highest level. “I want to convey to our fans and those who have already purchased tickets that we still need the greatest support possible this weekend, even though we won’t be there playing,” Yori said. “Obviously, if we had qualified and were playing, PBA would have been very close to maxing out. But what we need from our great fans is for everyone to use the nearly 9,000 tickets already purchased and encourage others to buy more and join them at PBA.”
Rare Sight: UConn Women in Midwest Regional
Why? “Because UConn doesn’t play in the Midwest very often, so it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to see perhaps the best women’s program of all time,” Yori said before adding: “This UConn team also might be one of the best, if not the best, college women’s team of all-time. They’re phenomenal. Nebraska fans wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity like this when they can see one of the greatest teams of all time playing in their own backyard. You don’t have to go to the Final Four in Nashville. All you have to do is buy a ticket and head straight down to the Haymarket.”
Yori acknowledges another reason for asking fans to make PBA rock and roll without the Huskers taking the floor. “How Nebraska supports this game is an important part of our future,” she said. “If we want to have a chance to host a women’s event like this down the line, we need to showcase our great fan base now, so we will get other opportunities. Who knows? Someday, we hope we can host a men’s regional in here, too, so we don’t want to see empty seats for a national event like the Sweet 16. This is our chance to showcase our fans who traditionally support these types of events, even if we’re not competing ourselves, whether it’s the College World Series and the National Swimming Trials in Omaha or a volleyball regional in Lincoln. This is our chance to show other teams how great our fans really are.”
Yori: UConn Women like UCLA Men in Heyday
In my mind, Yori’s request goes beyond Nebraska’s broad base of women’s fans and crosses over to Husker men’s fans. “I really do think that UConn’s women’s basketball is like UCLA’s men’s basketball in its heyday,” she said. “UConn doesn’t win the National Championship every year, but it’s always in the hunt. You’re going to see high quality basketball on Saturday and on Monday night, and Nebraskans should take advantage of the opportunity to see really, really well-coached teams that play really fundamental basketball. They’re fun to watch because they make a lot of shots.”
Yori and her staff want floor-level seats so they can see UConn’s athleticism. “I can’t wait to watch Breanna Stewart play,” the Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year said. “She’s a 6-5 player that can basically do everything. I don’t know who to compare her to on the men’s side…she’s Doug McDermott on the men’s side, that’s who she is, but maybe with a little more athleticism from a female standpoint. UConn has some of the best players in the country. They have three kids on the team vying for the National Player of the Year. It’s just unbelievable. I wouldn’t miss seeing them play for anything, and it’s all right here in our very own back door.”
BYU, Texas A&M, DePaul Round out the Field
Make no mistake. Yori knows there are three other teams in the Lincoln Regional. No. 12 seed BYU will play No. 1 seed UConn at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by No. 3 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 7 seed DePaul at 6 p.m. “We have some characters coming to Lincoln. There's Geno and Gary Blair (A&M), plus Doug Bruno (DePaul), who’s really engaging. Those guys are all characters. I was telling someone today you better plan on some very long press conferences because these guys like to talk.”
The Lincoln Regional has ESPN’s special national spotlight because “UConn is an historic team in a historic era,” Yori said. “I’m not saying other teams don’t have a chance. They may have something to say about it, including Notre Dame. So let’s put it this way. We would have liked to have been playing here Saturday, but the chances of beating UConn would have been very, very slim. They are phenomenal.” So phenomenal that the Huskies average margin of victory in 36 consecutive games is about 35 points per game. They also average 16 more possessions per game than their opponents while owning the best shooting percentage defense in the country and the second best shooting percentage offense in the country. It almost has to be the greatest dominance in Division I history.
Yori: Pinnacle Bank Arena Best, Hands Down
The only basketball-related fact as fascinating as UConn’s mind-boggling stats is Pinnacle Bank Arena itself. “I think it’s the best facility in the country,” Yori said. “I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve seen a lot of them…all of them in the Big Ten, all of them in the Big 12 and several of the top ACC arenas. In my opinion, PBA is hands down the best arena of any I’ve seen or been in. The whole Haymarket Area is phenomenal. The arena and the entire area have made a big impact on this city and on our state, and we’re hoping our fans will come out in force to show other teams why we should get another opportunity like the one we have this weekend.”
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