Category archive: Nebraska Cornhuskers
You want to know just how much No. 11 seed Kansas' 57-49 victory over sixth-seeded Nebraska in the NCAA tournament's first round meant to the Jayhawks? A whole rock-chalking lot.
Exactly one month ago -- Feb. 18 -- the interview room at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse was a depressing place to be for the home team.
The Jayhawks had just lost to archrival Missouri 70-65. It was the Tigers' first Big 12 victory and threw what KU coach Bonnie Henrickson called "a dagger" at the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament hopes.
Six days previously, the Jayhawks had lost their leading scorer, junior post Carolyn Davis, to a gruesome-looking ACL injury early in their game at Kansas State. After she went down, her cries echoed around a hushed Bramlage Coliseum.
And as Henrickson leaned over to console her, Davis kept saying, "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" As if that dastardly ligament tearing -- as it does far too often in women's hoops -- had been her fault.
And there were the Jayhawks -- still battling for their first NCAA berth since 2000 -- letting a home game slip away to the last-place team in the Big 12. Just before tipoff of that Mizzou game, Davis had been in the team huddle and fell down, the injured knee giving way suddenly, as they sometimes do. She'd fallen to the court, in pain again.
In the postgame news conference, Henrickson struggled with her emotions in saying that the team had dealt with Davis' injury better than she had. Then senior Aisha Sutherland, trying to keep her composure talking about what looked to be the downward spiral of her final college season, dissolved into tears. And Sutherland is not the crying type.
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireAngel Goodrich helped Kansas win its first NCAA tournament game since 1999.
Yeah, we told you it was depressing.
But another player, her composure unbroken, vowed that the Jayhawks were not going to give up and that they still had a chance to be an NCAA tournament team. That was junior point guard Angel Goodrich, who had been through two ACL injuries herself at KU.
Nothing came easily, though. Kansas did win its next game after the Missouri debacle, getting the program's first victory at Texas Tech since 1978. Goodrich broke the school's single-season assist record in that game.
After an expected loss to No. 1 Baylor, the Jayhawks came home to face Oklahoma State and fell by three points. Now they really were sunk, right?
Nope, they went on the road again and won their regular-season finale, giving Henrickson her first victory over Oklahoma in her eight seasons at KU. After a respectable and hard-fought 78-63 loss to defending national champ Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, the Jayhawks were left to nervously watch the NCAA selection show to see if their roller-coaster season had been enough. And they erupted in joy when they found out it was.
All that puts into context what you saw Sunday, when KU downed familiar foe Nebraska, long a conference rival before the Huskers' move to the Big Ten this season.
The Huskers didn't have injured sophomore Jordan Hooper at full strength; she played 32 minutes but made just 4 of 18 shots. Point guard Lindsey Moore also struggled, going 5-of-21 from the field. As a team, the Huskers were 1-of-19 from behind the arc. Nebraska really didn't look like the same team that had played in the Big Ten tournament title game two weeks ago.
But credit Kansas for staying composed and holding onto a lead, something the Jayhawks have not been able to do enough over the past few years. Too many breakdowns at the ends of winnable games have cost the Jayhawks dearly, and kept them from making an NCAA appearance sooner than this.
However, despite those past disappointments, her knee problems, the injury to her close friend Davis, and the pressure of her first NCAA tournament game, Goodrich on Sunday showed why Henrickson has called her, "the most accountable kid I have ever coached."
Goodrich had a team-high 20 points and five assists. Even though she had six turnovers, the Jayhawks always feel better when the ball is in her hands for a lot of each possession. She makes things happen, including the driving basket and two free throws in the final 39 seconds that sealed this win for KU.
Sutherland had eight points and five rebounds, plus two blocked shots as her defense was important in clogging up Nebraska's attack. But the breakout star of the game was the youngster who is starting because of the injury to Davis: freshman Chelsea Gardner. Both are 6-foot-3 posts from Texas; Davis from Houston and Gardner from DeSoto. Gardner had career highs in both points (15) and rebounds (16) against the Huskers.
Kansas now will face No. 3 seed Delaware and sensation Elena Delle Donne for a trip to the Sweet 16, someplace the Jayhawks have not been since 1998.
And Goodrich's words on that bleak afternoon a month ago in Lawrence, Kan., are worth revisiting. Because it's those moments of resolve through the hardest times -- which most folks don't really see -- that are such a big part of what makes some athletes' journeys so inspiring.
"I feel like we can still pull it together," Goodrich said after the Mizzou loss. "That's the key thing right now for us: Just staying together as a team and continuing to get better. Even if you lose, just go out there and give it your all. Have no regrets. If we just do that, I'll be happy at the end of the day."
Sunday, she was very happy. She and the Jayhawks have, indeed, given it their all.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder high-fives with her team after the Hawkeyes received a No. 9 seed. They will face California in the first round.
Coach Pat Summitt and No. 2 seed Tennessee may have to go through Elena Delle Donne and Delaware, and then Brittney Griner and Baylor to reach the Final Four.
No. 16-seed Liberty will face top-seeded Notre Dame in the first round. Harvard, a No. 16 seed, defeated No. 1 seed Stanford in 1998.
Fresno State is the No. 12 seed in the Des Moines region. The Bulldogs play No. 5 Georgetown and Sugar Rodgers.
Florida players will have a tough road, facing No. 8 seed Ohio State, which features one of the toughest backcourts in the country with Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill.
Julie Wojta and Green Bay finished the season with a 30-1 record but received a No. 7 seed. The Phoenix also have to travel to Ames, Iowa, to face Iowa State.
Connie Yori and Nebraska went all the way to the conference tournament final in their first season in the Big Ten. The No. 6-seeded Cornhuskers play Kansas in the first round.
Kentucky won the SEC conference regular-season title. As their reward, the Wildcats received a No. 2 seed and will face McNeese State.
Kansas State will face Princeton in the first round. If the Wildcats win, they will likely face No. 1 seed UConn in the second round.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, back left, and her team are No. 6 seed and will face Michigan. The winner could play No. 3 seed St. John's from the Big East.
INDIANAPOLIS -- No one could have predicted that in the final minutes of Saturday's Big Ten semifinal, Nebraska coach Connie Yori would be emptying her bench, resting her starters for the next night's final.
But that's what happened inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Yori's Cornhuskers, who needed Saturday's victory over Ohio State to stay on the minds of the NCAA's selection committee, dominated the Buckeyes 77-62.
No one saw it coming.
For the first 10 minutes of Saturday's game, it looked like Nebraska would be the team flying home soon from Indianapolis. Everything looked right with Ohio State. The favored Buckeyes, the Big Ten's No. 2 seed, were stockpiling buckets, swarming on defense, and looked to be on their way to a lopsided victory over the sixth-seeded Cornhuskers.
Midway through the first, Ohio State had more than twice as many points as Nebraska, leading 21-8. But by the time the Buckeyes headed back to their halftime locker room, Nebraska had flipped the numbers on the scoreboard. The Cornhuskers ended the half on a 28-9 run to take a 36-30 lead.
Nebraska came out of the break playing the same way. The Cornhuskers, who made nine 3-pointers and got 21 points from star forward Jordan Hooper, had the victory in hand for nearly all of the second half.
Except for those first few minutes, Ohio State's offense looked like little more than a series of random dribbles around the perimeter. The Buckeyes finished 2-for-16 from behind the 3-point line. On the other end, the Cornhuskers were knocking down 3-pointers and grabbing offensive rebounds. Nebraska was running its offense as if on train tracks (15 assists on 26 field goals), putting together a crushing run of 38-11 across the halves.
With 6 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game, Nebraska forward Hailie Sample grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds, finally spinning the ball off the glass to put the Cornhuskers ahead 66-47.
Ohio State, which drops to 25-6, would get no closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Nebraska, now 24-7, will play in Sunday's final (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET), facing the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between Penn State and Purdue.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Once they got to their final Big 12 women's tournament, Colorado and Nebraska didn't have long goodbyes.
Both were gone by the end of the afternoon session on the first day. Colorado fell to Kansas 71-45 on Tuesday, while Nebraska gave Iowa State a scare before falling 69-61. The two schools, longtime members of the Big Eight before it expanded to the Big 12 in 1996, will be headed elsewhere after this school year.
Colorado heads to what will be the Pac-12, while Nebraska goes to what will be a 12-team Big Ten.
The Buffs won the Big 12 tournament once, in 1997, but they never took a regular-season Big 12 title. Colorado won four Big Eight regular-season titles and four Big Eight tournament championships.
Nebraska won the Big 12 regular-season crown in 2009-10 and won that once in the Big Eight days. The Huskers never did win the tournament title in either league.
Nebraska (13-18) was wrecked by graduation and injuries, and finished last in the league this season. With several players returning, coach Connie Yori hopes to have a good introduction to the Big Ten in 2011-12. But she hasn't paid much attention to the league this season.
"Honestly, I could not tell you what's gone on in the Big Ten," Yori said. "We're going to take the offseason to try to catch up; we've taped a lot of Big Ten games. I feel the Big 12 has been a great league for us; there's so many people in this league I respect."
Colorado coach Linda Lappe also played for the Buffs, finishing her CU career in 2003. So she has spent a lot of time in Municipal Auditorium, which is hosting its 10th Big 12 women's tournament this year.
"Last night, I sat in my hotel room and looked over at the arena," Lappe said. "I can remember so many details that have happened in this building, and I took a second to say to myself, 'This is a pretty neat opportunity I've had.' I've really enjoyed being in the Big 12 as a coach and visiting all the same arenas I got to play in.
"We're happy we're going to the Pac-12. But at the same time, it's a little bittersweet. It's an ending to something that was pretty special."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quarterfinal day at the Big 12 tournament started with the road to perfection continued, and ended with the road to redemption established. In between, Texas lost the ball a lot, and Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley shot it a lot.
AP Photo/Denny MedleyOklahoma State's Andrea Riley set two Big 12 tournament marks Friday: a single-game record 43 points on a tourney-record 44 field goal attempts.
Now we get this: Nebraska, which improved to 30-0 after beating Kansas State 63-46, trying to move to its first Big 12 tournament final and Bedlam No. 3, as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State face off in the other semifinal.
The Huskers will meet Texas A&M, which forced 26 Texas turnovers in beating the Longhorns 77-64. Oklahoma State then pulled the day's upset, as the No. 7 seed Cowgirls topped No. 2 Iowa State 62-59 behind Riley's 43 points, a Big 12 tournament single-game record.
Riley took a Big 12-record 44 shots from the field -- she'd had the record previously with 42 earlier this season -- and made 16 of them. With her first basket, she became the conference's all-time leading scorer, surpassing Oklahoma's Courtney Paris.
Riley now has 2,772 career points, and said coach Kurt Budke told her if she had to shoot it 50 times on Friday, he was fine with that.
"And I got close!" Riley said, laughing. (Budke confirmed he did, indeed, tell her to basically shoot until the game ended or her arm fell off, whichever came first.)
Then the highlight of Friday at Municipal Auditorium was the last game, in which Baylor freshman Brittney Griner returned after a two-game suspension and did the same thing to No. 12 Oklahoma that she had during two regular-season meetings: made it very difficult for the Sooners to get much inside.
Griner blocked 10 shots -- she had 11 blocks in both other matchups with the Sooners -- and had 13 points and six rebounds in 40 minutes. Plus, No. 18 Baylor's "glue" player, Melissa Jones, who has been battling a stress reaction in her leg and hadn't played since Jan. 31, returned for 17 minutes of action.
It wasn't enough, though, on a night when Oklahoma had just seven turnovers, none by point guard Danielle Robinson. It was the fourth meeting between Oklahoma and Baylor in Big 12 tournament history, and the Sooners have won all four.
This one went down to the wire, 59-54, and afterward OU coach Sherri Coale said Griner coming off the suspension, "Looked exactly the same to me."
Griner said she felt with her first blocked shot, "I was back in the groove. I missed being out there with my team. It felt good to be back and playing with everybody."
But Baylor coach Kim Mulkey voiced what seemed pretty obvious to most observers, "I thought she was tentative. She probably wasn't as much of a presence in the paint as she had been."
That would be understandable with Griner facing the degree of public scrutiny she has since punching a Texas Tech player March 3.
Griner said she wasn't nervous before the game and didn't really hear the smattering of boos that came from the crowd when she was announced. However, Mulkey noticed and said, "I was disappointed. It's a teenager that made a mistake. She's good for the women's game, and she's human."
Griner did look more comfortable in the second half, saying that while she didn't think she was really holding back before that, "I knew I had to step it up. I was trying to help my team out."
Mulkey gave an impassioned and heartfelt explanation of what Griner has been going through the past nine days.
"I'm a mother, and when I go into that home and recruit a kid," Mulkey said, "and I look at her parents in the eyes and they say, 'I want that kid to play for you because you run a disciplined program' -- that came out of Brittney Griner's father's mouth.
"And he expects, when she fails, for me to discipline her and not throw her on the street. I would think if I coached your daughter, you would want that, too. Brittney Griner will learn from this. And if she doesn't, Brittney will eliminate herself."
Mulkey has spoken often about Griner's gentle demeanor, and she reiterated that in regard to how one action in the heat of battle is not at all indicative of Griner's real personality.
"She is the sweetest child in a 6-8 body," Mulkey said. "All I ask is that you judge Brittney Griner before the incident and you judge her after the incident. What made [it] so bad is it was done in a public forum. There is not a coach in America that has not had to discipline a kid for taking a swing at a teammate in private that none of you ever knew about. Not on the men's side, not on the women's side. It was, again, a horrible, horrible thing, and she hurts because of it."
But it's also over. And with Griner back in action -- still facing, however, private disciplinary measures from Mulkey to help her learn from the mistake -- there's not much else to say about it. It's time to move forward and look at Baylor's NCAA tournament chances.
Jones was not her normal self in some ways, going 1 of 7 from the field, but her mere presence made Baylor function better. Baylor also got Morghan Medlock's best game of the season; the team's lone senior had 18 points and five rebounds.
If Jones can return to full health -- or close to it -- and Griner feels comfortable asserting herself, Baylor is going to be a really tough NCAA matchup.
"I was excited to have those two back in the lineup," Medlock said, no doubt speaking for all Baylor followers, too.
But now while Baylor prepares for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma faces its third meeting this season with in-state rival Oklahoma State. Well, actually it hasn't been that much of a rivalry: the Cowgirls have won only once in the last 22 meetings.
Oklahoma won this season's matchups 77-66 in Stillwater and 95-62 in Norman. The latter game was the regular-season finale, and the Sooners could do no wrong in that game.
The semifinal meeting will pit two of the top point guards in the women's college game, with Riley and Robinson, who had 26 points and four assists Friday.
And Nebraska -- whose only "worry" against the Wildcats was an ugly 1-for-21 struggle from behind the arc, not that it mattered -- will go against an A&M team that is looking really good in March -- much like the Aggies did two years ago when they won the Big 12 tournament here in KC.
"Well, obviously, no one would have expected us to be 30-0 -- nor did I," Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. "You've got to find different ways to win. This is a rarity. I might coach for another 30 years and not have this happen."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Brittney Griner sat in the stands behind the Baylor bench at the Big 12 tournament and watched her teammates figure out a way to beat Colorado without her. They will not have to do the same thing Friday against Oklahoma.
Griner will be back after her two-game suspension for punching Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle, and Baylor will be oh-so-happy to have her return to the floor.
With Griner in the lineup in February -- getting a triple-double that included 11 blocked shots -- Baylor beat Colorado by 34 points. Without Griner, No. 6 seed Baylor had to throw on a full-court press and get a very special guest-star appearance from Whitney Zachariason to beat the Buffaloes 72-65 in the first round.
Baylor trailed by eight points at halftime and was still down by that much with 13:40 left in the game. But then Baylor gained back the momentum with pressure defense, and the Buffs had no answer for Zachariason. Of course, they weren't expecting she'd be such a problem.
Zachariason's career high in points coming into Thursday's game was seven. But with the Buffs fully committed to a zone defense, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey called on the "Z" to bust it up. And she did, hitting five 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 17 points.
Asked if using Zachariason was a game-time decision, Mulkey said, "Yeah, it was sittin' on the bench and watching us miss shots from the perimeter. And I thought, 'Hell, give her a shot.'"
Baylor's comeback was the nightcap of four closely contested games in Big 12 first-round action; all were decided by single digits. The day started with a reminder of the Griner-Barncastle tussle; Barncastle was wearing a face mask to protect her broken nose. That is, until she couldn't stand it anymore.
At one point, she became so irritated with the mask that she took it off, but then later put it back on. She never seemed comfortable the whole game, and didn't score in Tech's 59-51 loss to Kansas State.
"I thought she didn't look herself today, defensively especially," Tech coach Kristy Curry said of Barncastle. "She was way too passive."
What will be interesting to see is if Griner is somewhat passive against the Sooners, or if she'll feel comfortable asserting herself. The No. 3 seed Sooners and Baylor split their meetings during the regular season, with Baylor winning 57-47 in Waco, Texas, on Jan. 13 and Oklahoma taking a 62-60 overtime win in Norman, Okla., on Feb. 10.
Griner had two of her bigger rejection games against the Sooners; in each meeting, she blocked 11 shots. She had 12 points in the victory against OU and 17 in the loss.
Friday's quarterfinal will be the fourth Big 12 tournament meeting between Oklahoma and Baylor, and the Sooners have won the previous three. Two of those were for the championship (2002, '06) and the other was in the semifinals ('07).
In those last two tourney meetings with Baylor, the Sooners were led by Courtney Paris. She remains the Big 12's leading career scorer but only for a little while longer.
In the outstanding individual performance of Thursday, Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley had 37 points in a 76-69 victory over Kansas. Riley's total bested Paris' single-game tournament record of 36 points set in 2006. And with that performance, Riley now has 2,729 points in her career, which ties her with Paris. Riley's first basket or free throw Friday when the Cowgirls face Iowa State will give her the record.
"To us, she is the MVP of the conference," Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke said. "There is nobody more valuable to a team."
Well, Nebraska fans would disagree, as their star, Kelsey Griffin, is the Big 12 Player of the Year and has led the Huskers to a 29-0 record. Top-seeded Nebraska, which has never won the Big 12 tournament title and never reached the final, will start its quest in the day's first game against Kansas State.
The other matchup Friday will pit Texas -- which survived Missouri in Tigers coach Cindy Stein's last game, 64-59 -- against Texas A&M. The Aggies have vexed Texas coach Gail Goestenkors since she arrived in Austin for the 2007-08 season. She has lost all six meetings with Texas A&M. In fact, Texas has beaten A&M just once since 2005.
But the game of the day could well be the last one, with Baylor and Oklahoma both trying to boost their NCAA tournament seeding. Baylor got a lift from an unexpected source on Thursday. But Friday, Mulkey hopes to see everything back to normal, with Griner crowding the lane, not sitting in the crowd.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Were it some coach other than Nebraska's Connie Yori, you might just think it was sandbagging. But few folks in the business are as straightforward as she is plus what she says just makes a lot of sense.
The Huskers are undefeated and the top seed in the Big 12 tournament; they'll open play in Friday's quarterfinals. Still, Yori doesn't see Nebraska as the "favorite."
"We are not built to play three games in three days," the Big 12 coach of the year said. "Because we play full-court defense. We expend a lot of energy -- that's who we are. In order to do that for three games in a row, that's hard.
"We're not a half-court execution team. So I think it will be a huge challenge for us, because of our style, to win the Big 12 tournament."
Two games in three days -- which is the NCAA tournament setup -- is a different story. Yori is not concerned about that.
But three in three just might tax her Huskers -- including Big 12 player of the year Kelsey Griffin -- too much. This is all new ground anyway for Nebraska, which has never won a league tournament title in the Big 12 or Big Eight eras.
Further, no North Division team has won the conference tournament since Iowa State did it in 2001. This year, for the first time in Big 12 history, the top two seeds -- Nebraska and Iowa State -- are from the North Division.
Although the Huskers come in feeling fully healthy, the Cyclones don't. Senior point guard Alison Lacey is not expected to play in Iowa State's quarterfinal game Friday because she's recovering from pneumonia.
Iowa State released a statement that Lacey's status beyond the quarterfinal is uncertain, although she is expected to be ready to play in the NCAA tournament if the Cyclones get a bid (which, of course, they will).
If Lacey is absent the entire Big 12 tourney, it seems unlikely the Cyclones can really make a run at winning. Thus, if neither of the top two seeds is the so-called favorite, who is?
Well, would it be crazy to say No. 3 seed Oklahoma? Nope. Despite all the graduation and injury losses, the Sooners still tied with Iowa State for second place in the league at 11-5. (The Cyclones won the head-to-head matchup as the tiebreaker.)
How about Texas A&M, which is the No. 4 seed (the same spot from which the Aggies won this title two years ago in K.C.)? All three of Texas A&M's leading scorers, by the way, are from Kansas City (Danielle Adams, Tanisha Smith and Tyra White).
Who outside the top four seeds -- they have first-round byes -- might challenge to win the title? It would be a stretch for any of them. That would mean four games in four days. Only one team outside the top four has won the title previously, and that was Oklahoma as a No. 6 seed in 2004.
However, back then the tournament still had a rest day between the semifinals and final. Now, it no longer has that.
No. 5 seed Texas has had its ups and downs, although the Longhorns did close the regular season with a victory over Baylor. However, that came with Brittney Griner suspended for a punch thrown in Baylor's game at Texas Tech on March 3.
Speaking of Baylor, the No. 6 seed, Griner is suspended for one more game -- the opener Thursday night against No. 11 Colorado. She didn't come to Baylor's open-to-the-media practice. Asked about it after the workout, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey did not explain Griner's absence but just repeated that Griner was suspended for the first game of the tournament. Mulkey didn't seem very pleased to be talking to any of us reporters, you might say.
Being the fierce competitor she is, Mulkey seems to be taking an "us against the world" attitude. And even though Melissa Jones (injury to right lower leg) apparently is out of the Big 12 tournament, Baylor shouldn't be underestimated. This is the program that won the league tournament last season -- although the personnel is quite different.
Lastly, the only other team that merits a mention as having an outside shot at the title is No. 7 Oklahoma State. Despite its season-ending 95-62 smackdown at Oklahoma in the regular-season finale, the Cowgirls and Andrea Riley do have title-game experience. They made it to the championship game in 2008.
The Big 12 is not the only big show in women's basketball still going on. The Pac-10 tourney, in which Stanford is nearly a prohibitive favorite, will be contested through the weekend, too.
But the Big 12 should provide a bit more drama because several teams are trying to improve their NCAA tournament position. Plus, despite the Huskers' 29-0 mark, as Yori said there is still a feeling that Nebraska might have its troubles here.
Then again, so might everybody else.