By Randy York
Nebraska Associate Athletic Director
Take it from Gary Willey and his wife, Alyce Rae. Grab a bunch of one-dollar bills from your spare change drawer and head to the Devaney Center Thursday for Nebraska’s 7:05 p.m. women’s basketball “Dollar Days” game against Missouri.
If you’re like the Willeys, who tried Nebraska women’s basketball for the first time three weeks ago, you’ll like it and want to come back for more.
“We enjoyed our first game so much, we’re considering buying season tickets for next year,” said Willey, who won tickets to the Jan. 30 Nebraska-Kansas State game as a door prize at an Executive Club luncheon.
“We took our youngest son’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, and we all had a great time,” Willey said. “We enjoyed the whole experience. We liked watching both teams play hard from start to finish. We had a blast watching the little kids get so excited and laughed when the Kiss-Cam focused on the older couples. It was a real kick for all of us.”
Willey, semi-retired after owning a Lincoln commercial satellite company for 26 years, still does consulting work in marketing and sales. He knows a good product when he sees one. “This Nebraska women’s basketball team is young, but they’re going to be fun to follow over the next few years.”
Thursday is an ideal opportunity for the same kind of “taste test” the Willeys took. For just one dollar, you can walk in the door, find a general admission seat and brace yourself for non-stop, full-court action. Another dollar will buy you a hot dog or a Pepsi product while someone saves your seat. Six dollars will buy you and a friend a full-meal deal. A family of four can eat, drink and watch a likely NCAA qualifying team play a Big 12 Conference game for $12 – total! At Nebraska, promotions don’t get any better than this one.
“I think our program is one of the best bargains in the state, even without the Dollar Days promotion,” said Yori, in her sixth season at the Husker helm. “When we play, it’s a very inexpensive night out to watch a quality basketball team. This has been my hardest working team at Nebraska, bar none. We’re not perfect by any means, but this team has more intensity than any other team I’ve had here. That’s why it’s been the most enjoyable one to coach.”
Few envisioned this year’s young Nebraska team going 17-8 and having a 6-5 record against a brutal Big 12 schedule. Last year, Kiera Hardy, a three-time All-Big 12 player, carried the Huskers into the NCAA Tournament. This year’s leadership comes from everyone who has bought into Yori’s wear-the-opponent-down game plan.
Everyone who plays is fun to watch, Yori said, because “We play a fun style and score a lot of points. No team in the Big 12 plays at a higher tempo than we do. We push the ball up the court as quickly as we can and play full-court defense each and every possession. Our style is to play extended defense and get up in people’s shorts, yet be a high scoring team, too. We’ve chosen this style of play because it’s not only fun for the fans to watch, but fun for the players to play.”
Larry Porter, who retired last spring after writing sports for more than 40 years at the Omaha World-Herald, met Yori when she was a college journalism major and an intern at his paper. They were reacquainted when Porter covered the Nebraska women each of the two previous seasons. In his final World-Herald column, the long-time outdoor editor said one of his favorite passions would now move indoors – as a season ticket-holder for Yori’s teams.
“It’s so much fun to watch her teams play,” Porter said Tuesday. “They just come at you in waves, and that’s testimony to her recruiting and her depth. She recruits depth for defense, and it has a domino effect. When you come to play for Connie Yori, you better be defensive-minded. And if you aren’t, you soon will be.”
Porter, and his wife, Ruth, believe that attitude is best reflected in the way Dominique Kelley, a 5-7 freshman guard from Lincoln, smiles after she or a Husker teammate makes a stellar defensive play. “Her smile just lights up the entire Devaney Center,” Porter said. “Every time Dominique flashes that big smile of hers, Ruth elbows me in the ribs and says: ‘Boy, am I glad we’re here.’”
Porter is, too. “I’ve covered so many sports during my career – the NBA for three years when the Kings shared Kansas City and Omaha, the Omaha Royals for five years when George Brett and Frank White played in Rosenblatt, Nebraska football, Nebraska men’s basketball (including the Huskers’ final year in the old Coliseum) and all aspects of high school sports for 14 years,” Porter said. “Sure, I’d love to own season football tickets, and I truly believe in what Doc Sadler is doing for the men’s program, but I’m absolutely delighted to spend my money on season tickets for the Nebraska women’s basketball team.”
Yori appreciates the compliments. “I think we do reflect a lot of the qualities Nebraskans believe in, including character and hard work,” she said. “Our young women are proud to pull on the Nebraska jersey. We’ve flown under the radar a little bit all season, but we’ve put a great product on the floor. We’ve gotten better and won a lot of games against one of the 15 toughest schedules in the country. Even though we were an NCAA team last year, we’re more exciting to watch this year. What does that say?”
It says if you wait much longer to watch this team play, you’re missing a great opportunity.