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By Randy York
I think I know why Kaitlyn Burke and Lindsey Moore were so excited Monday night when they learned that Nebraska would be playing Kansas – one of its traditional rivals from the past – in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in Little Rock, Ark. The unexpected matchup gives NU’s senior and junior point guards a chance to play the rubber match from their final season in the Big 12 Conference. The Huskers and Jayhawks split their final run of home-and-home games last year.
While Burke, Moore and their teammates leaped from their chairs when the pairing was announced on ESPN, they weren’t the only ones who were excited. Big Red fans in the same lobby of the Hendricks Training Complex hooted and hollered as well, including countless season ticketholders who got their wish – an NCAA regional destination that’s drivable.
“It’s 620 miles from Lincoln to Little Rock. I just looked it up on my phone,” Gary Buser said within a minute of the announcement.
“We wanted something drivable, and that’s drivable,” said Pam Buser, Gary’s wife.
So yes, the Busers will be driving to Little Rock, just as they drove to Minneapolis two years ago when Nebraska’s best women’s team ever beat Northern Iowa by 39 points and UCLA by 13 points in its 2010 NCAA Regional. The Busers have been women’s season ticket holders for 10 years.
“We were men’s basketball season ticketholders and our friends, who were also men’s season ticketholders, talked us into going to a women’s game,” Gary recalled. “We went to one game that season, then to several more the next season. We enjoyed it so much, one day we just looked at each other and said: ‘Why don’t we just buy season tickets?’ It was a great decision.
“These ladies have fun, and they always have been fun,” Gary said. “We enjoy watching them play because they enjoy playing and competing. They play an exciting brand of basketball. We love watching their full-court defense. Being an old high school football player, I love the way they get after it. I think everybody loves their enthusiasm, and I think that’s why no one ever leaves, regardless of the score.”
Buser thinks KU will be surprised by Nebraska’s aggressive defense. “The defense we had when we played them before is different,” he said. “There is no quit in these ladies. That’s why I call them ladies.”
Joann Martin, CEO of Lincoln’s Ameritas Life Insurance and a corporate sponsor of the Nebraska Athletic Department, leads a company that supports all Husker sports, and Nebraska women’s basketball continues to be among her favorites. Because of her travel schedule, she doesn’t get to many road games, but she was in Indianapolis to watch the Huskers’ gallant effort that ended in a double overtime championship loss to Purdue.
“The fans are excited,” Martin said, enjoying the sight of a happy room. “Connie Yori and her team bring a lot of enthusiasm to the game and her team plays really hard,” she said. “I watch them play every chance I get. Anytime we can’t watch them in person, we watch on TV, on the Internet or listen on the radio. Those are great things.”
Martin calls Yori “a fabulous leader for this team, and she’s a fabulous role model for the girls. I’m just really happy for them. This team has really come along. They’re a young team, but they’ve gelled well, and I think they’re going to go a long ways in the tournament.”
She’s not alone in that way of thinking. Doug Fry of Lincoln, Gloria Bruner of Lincoln and Teresa Otte of David City, Neb. were all sitting next to each other at Monday night’s NCAA selection ceremony, and all decided they would drive to Little Rock before they left the Hendricks Training Complex. “If a bus was available, I’d probably do that,” Otte said. “But I’m willing to drive.”
All three are season ticketholders. All were in Minneapolis and Kansas City for Nebraska’s three NCAA games two years ago. And all said they can’t wait to see what this young team can do under the bright lights of another national tournament.
“These girls may be young, but they play together,” Fry said. “They’re family, and you can see that every time they take the court.”
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