Randy York's N-sider
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It's a simple theme - "Our Team. Our Time." But the Nebraska women's basketball team couldn't have selected a better slogan to set the tone for what continues to be a magical season.
Nebraska Coach Connie Yori's 16-0 Huskers are showing that their time really is now, running to their best start in Big 12 Conference history while becoming one of only two remaining unbeaten Division I women's basketball teams in the country.
UConn, of course, is the other unbeaten. The defending national champions and current No. 1 team in the land has been in this position before, but this is entirely new territory for the Big Red.
Charlie Creme, ESPN's expert in women's basketball bracketology, replaced another perennial national title contender - Tennessee - with Nebraska as the No. 1 seed in the Memphis Regional for the 2010 NCAA Women's Final Four.
Heady stuff, to be sure, but you'll never catch Yori or any of her players going down that road paved with great expectations because in the Big 12 Conference, looking even one game ahead is a road to nowhere.
Besides, a team coming off a losing season would never get that far ahead of itself, especially when the Huskers went to great lengths to build a theme that's based on an intense, one-challenge-at-a-time focus and mindset.
Nebraska, though, is forcing the nation to take notice right now. In the past month, the Huskers have made a greater splash nationally than they have in all of the previous seasons of the past decade combined. With a school-record winning streak, the Huskers have claimed their first-ever top-10 national rankings at No. 6 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll and No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 this week.
Arrive Early and Pack the House for K-State
After upsetting Baylor last Sunday in Waco, Nebraska hosts Kansas State at 11 a.m. Saturday in another nationally televised game on Fox Sports Net (FSN).
You better check this one out Saturday. At least listen to it on radio or Huskers.com or watch it on TV. But if you really want to show your appreciation for one of the best Husker success stories in years, take advantage of a Pepsi Pack the House promotion where fans can purchase general admission tickets for just $1 and receive $1 Pepsi 24-oz. fountain drinks at the concession stand.
Make sure you get your tickets early and arrive early. In fact, get to the Bob Devaney Center by 9:30 Saturday morning, so it's easier to park, walk inside and enjoy the pre-game music, Spirit Squad, video boards, food and drinks, not to mention experience a proper build-up to honor a team that deserves every hand you can give them. Ironically, the reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Week, Yvonne Turner, will celebrate her special senior day Saturday. Talk about timing.
Smart fans will pay the $1 per- ticket handling fee, then print out each $1 ticket on their home computers, so they can avoid the long lines to get in and be among the first in line to buy the $1 Pepsis.
A deal like this makes you wonder. If more than 7,000 Husker fans paid steeper prices to watch Nebraska beat LSU on a Sunday afternoon and outrun Texas on a Tuesday night, could at least 10,000 show up for this golden opportunity? "We'd like to draw even more than that, especially if our fans plan ahead and leave early," Nebraska Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm said.
"This promotion is sheer coincidence," Boehm pointed out. "We've done one like this every year to give new fans a taste test for women's basketball. Once they try it, they seem to like it and then come back."
This season, the Huskers are averaging nearly 4,000 fans a game, but that number will increase dramatically if Yori and her veteran team continue to compete like they have all season.
Fans Envision Best Team in School History
Superlative performance always creates higher expectations, and our current Fan Poll on Huskers.com reflects that, showing more than 1,600 fans, or 57 percent of those voting, believing the 2009-10 Huskers will be the best team in school history. More than 700 fans, or 27 percent, see the Huskers going fairly deep in the NCAA Tournament.
While most readily acknowledge that Nebraska can win the Big 12 regular-season championship or the league's tournament in Kansas City, it's obvious where fans put the premium - on what their favorite team can accomplish in the Big Dance, and, of course, the higher the seed, the greater chance that can happen.
But here's what you need to understand about Yori. She's always looking at the big picture, and this year her preseason optimism was in perfect alignment with proven talent, strong leadership and realistic expectations.
Those expectations, of course, depended in large part on Kelsey Griffin being what she'd always been, and perhaps even better, after ankle surgery forced her to the sidelines all of last season.
Griffin's absence helped Cory Montgomery, Yvonne Turner and Dominique Kelley to expand their own leadership roles on last year's squad, which managed to continue Nebraska's current streak of six consecutive postseason tournament appearances, despite season-ending injuries to Griffin, Nikki Bober and Layne Reeves.
The beauty of this year's Huskers is watching the shared ownership of "Our Team" and "Our Time" - a script that seems to keep writing itself, game after game, week after week, with different names showing up on the marquee.
Last Sunday, for instance, while Griffin was grinding her way through incredible defensive pressure, Turner and Montgomery kept making one big shot after another. The result was Yori winning another chess match against a coach who won a national championship at Baylor five years earlier. Five days before the win over the highly ranked Bears, Yori turned the Huskers loose against a Texas coach whose Duke teams played in four Final Fours and two national championship games.
Character, Teamwork and Focus
When you work as hard as Connie Yori and see meaningful daily improvement in a system you've always believed in, you understand why she stays optimistic. With her, character always comes first, and when she saw six highly unselfish, team-oriented seniors returning for their final season, she had no doubt this would be her best Nebraska team and their best time as Huskers.
Fortunately, all six seniors and everyone else, even starting freshman point guard Lindsey Moore, have embraced the "Our Team. Our Time." concept. Their mission, if you haven't noticed, is to be the toughest team to beat on the court each night.
Those who watched Yori play basketball at Creighton remember her as "a warrior" who would do whatever her coaches asked to win. She never cared about her own stats. She only cared about winning. She was selfless as a player, and the players she recruits and coaches now exemplify that same admirable trait.
Seems like a perfect time to get up early Saturday morning and ask your neighbors if they want to hop in the car and see what makes these Huskers so darn special.
We issue, however, an important warning. Once you climb aboard Nebraska's hottest women's basketball bandwagon in at least 20 years, you're going to want to stay there.
After K-State, the Huskers have 12 more games, including six at home, before the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, and then there's that other tournament fans and writers keep bringing up.
Here's the bottom line: Whether you watch the Huskers on TV, listen to them via the best radio coverage in the country, or see them live and in person, please tell us what you think about this team and their time, so we can share your thoughts with others.
Voices from Husker Nation
I very much enjoyed your article encouraging Nebraska fans to check out the Nebraska women's basketball team. My family and I have had season tickets since Paul Sanderford was hired. There have been some difficult years, but there have also been some excellent players and that made it fun nonetheless to watch each team. But this year and these players have been special. My mom was a huge Nebraska sports fan and listened to all games on the radio unless she was able to attend. She passed away in April 2008. She would have loved to see Coach Yori, and this special team, make it to the NCAA Tournament and make some noise nationally. Paula Beezley, Lincoln, Nebraska
Really enjoy watching this team and appreciate that they are well grounded and don't showboat. Class act players and coaches make us proud. GO BIG RED. Al Pernicek
My thoughts about this year's Lady Huskers go back to the NCAA Tournament game against Maryland two years ago. This year's juniors and seniors were freshmen and sophomores that season with the exception of Kelsey, who was a junior and had to redshirt last season due to injury. That team two years ago had only 1 senior - Danielle Paige and juniors Kelsey and Tay Hester. Connie had to always start at least two of those freshmen and sophomores and any subs were also freshmen and sophomores. The only real reason Maryland won that game on their home floor was they had more experienced players. Nebraska beat them in nearly every part of the game. Now, two years later those freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors and are much more than capable of winning a road game like the Maryland game. Richard Goeschel, Lincoln, Nebraska