In her 12th season at the Husker helm, Connie Yori has a basketball team with major momentum.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Yori: Basketball Interest at an All-Time High

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

For those who don’t know better, Nebraska has a Pinnacle Bank Arena basketball tenant that is not in the midst of a reconstruction project or trying to keep with up with the Joneses. Connie Yori’s women’s basketball team, in fact, has so much momentum going right now, the Huskers can be considered one of the Joneses. If nothing else, the 10th-ranked (USA Today Coaches’ Poll) and 11th-ranked (Associated Press) Huskers are moving into the same neighborhood as college basketball’s bluebloods. You might even say your Cornhuskers are right smack dab in the middle of the greatest renaissance in Nebraska basketball history … for either program.

That may sound like a bold statement as Nebraska prepares to host Arkansas-Pine Bluff Thursday night in the first of four straight home games over a 10-day stretch. But rest assured, we have facts that prove our point, including Yori’s nationally prominent coaching credentials and the full-fledged attention of Nebraska’s fans. Add everything up and you’ll understand why Yori makes this statement: "The excitement around basketball in the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska is probably at an all-time high right now, and we hope we can keep that growing." Sometimes, when teams are so successful and generate so much momentum, you can’t really tell whether they’ve created the momentum or the momentum is creating them. In the case of Nebraska women’s basketball, it seems like a little bit of both.

Yori, Smallwood, Assistants Land Best Class in History

Consider this: Yori’s Huskers have reached two fields of the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen in the last four years. They also have worked hard and put together two Top 25 national recruiting classes in the last three years. And here’s the real kicker: In her 12th season  as Nebraska’s head coach, Yori and her staff have worked hard and diligently enough to call their five 2014 recruits the best class in Nebraska history. If you think that sounds like hype, back up right now and click that link. You’ll see a Tennessee point guard who chose Nebraska over Michigan, Marquette and Memphis, among others; a Kansas forward who had offers from Stanford and Oklahoma State; a California point guard who could have gone to Boston College, Oregon State, Utah or Arizona; a 6-foot Washington guard pursued by four Pac-12 schools, plus Baylor and Gonzaga; and a 6-2 California forward/center who selected Nebraska over Utah, Oregon and Oregon State.

Yori would be the last woman on earth to take singular credit for a recruiting haul like that. Sunny Smallwood, in season nine as Yori’s associate head coach, has her fingerprints all over the 2014 recruiting class. And make no mistake, fourth-year assistant Dayna Finch and second-year assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller did their fair share to land significant national letters of intent signatures.

Let’s not forget the chief influencers of recruiting in the heartland. When Nebraska built the Hendricks Training Complex, it created ripples from one coast to the other. Even the Chicago Bulls used Nebraska as its benchmark for a practice facility. When the Huskers saw Pinnacle Bank Arena rise out of the downtown Haymarket area skyline, Nebraska punched a power-packed daily double ticket in the recruiting game. “We’re just entering the Golden Age of Nebraska women’s basketball!” declared Matt Coatney, the ever-popular voice of Nebraska women’s basketball. Coatney, of course, works in tandem with Jeff Griesch, the wheelhouse of Nebraska women’s basketball, internally, externally and all points in between.

50-Percent Season Ticket Surge; Notable NCAA Presale

We asked Griesch, also NU’s director of media relations, for an update on season ticket sales and how to measure the impact of Nebraska hosting one of four regionals in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament next March. The Huskers have sold a school record 3,200-plus season tickets for 2013-14 – a 50-percent increase. Nebraska also drew a school-record 9,750 fans for its season-opening game with UCLA, even though tipoff was at high noon. In addition, “We sold 2,500 all-session tickets for the NCAA Regional before tickets even went on-sale to the public,” Griesch said.

Credit a productive coach for her energetic fan base. Three seasons ago, Yori was voted National Coach of the Year. Last March, she was voted Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, making it easy to connect the cornerstones of Nebraska’s recruiting efforts. Truth be told, the seeds of these past two recruiting classes were planted in 2010 when the Huskers made their most historic splash in the NCAA Tournament. That unbeaten Big 12 regular season team represents a short time tunnel. Nebraska averaged more than 11,000 fans during the conference season, enabling the Huskers to achieve a milestone few programs experience. What was marketable suddenly became credible and once the Huskers hit their stride, they just might start another magic carpet ride.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Nebraska women’s basketball program,” Yori said. “We have a long way to go as a team before we can even think about the possibility of getting back to the Sweet Sixteen this year. But it certainly is a great opportunity for men’s and women’s basketball fans to have a chance to watch college basketball being played at a really high level at the end of March in Lincoln.”

Nebraska Plays Four Home Games in 10-Day Stretch

Yori and staff would relish seeing the Huskers get on a roll in this upcoming four-game, 10-day home stretch that starts Thursday night and continues Sunday afternoon against Southern. The following week, the Huskers host UMass-Lowell the night before Thanksgiving and then play Washington State Saturday in a 5 p.m. tipoff the day after the Huskers and Hawkeyes play their annual Heroes Game inside Memorial Stadium.

"The city of Lincoln and the entire state of Nebraska have a reputation for coming out and supporting big-time events,” Yori said. “An NCAA women's basketball regional to cap the first season at Pinnacle Bank Arena is certainly a big-time event. We’re hoping sports fans of all kinds all across the state of Nebraska start making their plans now."

Don’t worry. The N-Sider doesn’t ask readers to do something without helping. Just click this link and you’ll be able to buy and print a ticket that will get you inside PBA’s door for any game this season. You can even reserve seats for an NCAA Regional that will entertain everyone, especially if you can help the Huskers get on a roll now.

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