Wednesday's win said it all
Yori left speechless after Huskers ease past Cowgirls for a 7-0 start in Big 12
LINCOLN, Neb. -- We've all seen coaches get that, ''I don't know what to tell you,'' look after a frightful game where their team stunk up the gym to the rafters. But you typically don't see that after a coach's league-leading team just clobbered the second-place team in the conference.
Yet this is what the Huskers are doing to Connie Yori. They're competing so tenaciously and executing so effectively, they are leaving their coach with a serious case of cat-got-your-tongue.
"I didn't expect this, but I thought we'd play well," Yori said after the No. 4 Huskers beat No. 11 Oklahoma State 88-67 Wednesday at the Devaney Center. "At times, this group has kept me speechless, and that's really hard. Because if anybody knows me, they know that I love to ramble."
Besides Connecticut and Stanford, I'm not sure who has a better starting five. Because they can score from all five positions.” -- Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke on No. 4 Nebraska
There was a lot to ramble about, actually, in regard to this performance for the Huskers, now 20-0 overall and with a strong lead in the Big 12 at 7-0.
"We probably lost the Big 12 championship tonight," said Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke, whose squad fell to 6-2 in the league. "I can't imagine Nebraska losing two games. I look at their schedule, and I like it the rest of the way. Obviously, they've got a big one Saturday with A&M coming in here."
That would be Texas A&M, the team that Yori actually had as her preseason favorite to win the Big 12. The Aggies stumbled the last two weeks of January, losing three out of four. But they beat Missouri on Wednesday, and Saturday will be the next challenger for the Huskers and their Big Red Nation that's now filling up the Devaney Center.
After getting the biggest crowd in program history -- 13,303 -- Jan. 23 on $1 general-admission day, the Huskers on a regular-price Wednesday night drew 10,227. They got to watch mascot Herbie Husker rappel down from the ceiling with some local military folks just before the game started -- that got everyone fired up -- and then saw Nebraska play as well as the Huskers have all season.
"A team like this doesn't come around every year," Budke said of the Huskers. "I think they should support them like this the rest of the year. There should be 10,000 every night they play, because this team deserves it."
Again, all this would leave Yori again, not quite knowing what to say. Like all coaches, the last thing she wants is any over-confidence. But this group, with six seniors, has seen too many hard times in the past to get too big for their britches. It just won't happen.
Ask about their No. 4 ranking despite being the only undefeated team besides UConn, and the Huskers basically say, "Who cares?" They started the season unranked -- heck, they didn't receive one vote in the coaches' poll -- so there's not the slightest sense among them that they're somehow being short-changed.
After all, this is a program that's still hoping to win the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time and reach its first league tournament final. They're not going to get ahead of themselves.
But they did get way, way ahead of Oklahoma State very quickly. Not to make excuses for the Cowgirls, 18-4 overall, but they were coming off a hard-fought upset victory at Texas A&M on Sunday, in which Andrea Riley scored 31 points.
She entered Wednesday's game leading Division I in scoring at 26.3 ppg. But she was held to a season-low 15 points by Nebraska, thanks largely to the efforts of senior Vonnie Turner, who very well might be playing herself into being a WNBA draft pick.
Turner always has been known for her defense, but Yori said that has improved this season. And after playing despite shoulder problems that required surgery at the end of last season, Turner is more effective offensively than at any time previously in her career. She had 17 points as one of five Huskers who scored in double figures against the Cowgirls. Kelsey Griffin led the way with 19 points -- and played just 19 minutes.
In fact, Nebraska was so in control throughout this game that the starters got some much-coveted rest, always a bonus in league play. It was hardly the big showdown that it was billed to be, but Budke didn't take it too hard.
"They were just better than us tonight," said Budke, who has "Bedlam, Part 1" with Oklahoma at home Saturday. "They shot the ball well, and I tell you what: Besides Connecticut and Stanford, I'm not sure who has a better starting five. Because they can score from all five positions. And you bring back a fifth-year senior like Griffin, and that's something special. I think it's a dream team that played like it tonight."
Such talk might make Yori nervous, especially considering she has been through some bad Februarys in the past with the Huskers. However, this team is not like any previous Huskers group.
"I said to our coaching staff in my office after the game, 'I don't really know what to say,'" Yori said. "But I went into the locker room and told them how good they were, then reminded them how important it is to stay focused and on task. We played really, really well. Our players played hard, we did a good job on Riley and [Tegan] Cunningham, and we executed against their zone. We got great shots, and we made them."
That pretty much says it all.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.