Huskers take perfect mark to Norman
Nebraska (25-0) can clinch Big 12 regular-season title with win over Sooners
Well, aren't the Oklahoma Sooners lucky? Who doesn't like a "perfect" guest? And in the space of 10 days' time, the Sooners will have hosted two of them.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma faces the "other" unbeaten team in Division I women's basketball, Nebraska -- a visitor OU used to welcome to Norman every year.
From 1983-96, the old Big Eight rival schools played home-and-home every season, plus met twice in the league tournament.
Guess how that finished? Dead even. Oklahoma won 15 times, Nebraska won 15. Then the Big 12 began, in 1996-97, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, for scheduling purposes, were grouped with the Texas schools.
Meaning Oklahoma and Nebraska have met just once each regular season. They also have had one league tournament meeting. And in this Big 12 era, the edge has gone decidedly to Oklahoma: The Sooners are 10-4 against the Huskers, having won 10 of their last 11 meetings.
Further, the Huskers have won just once in Norman since the Big 12 started, and that was back in 1998 when Anna DeForge was Nebraska's senior standout. This season, the Huskers have six seniors, with national player of the year candidate Kelsey Griffin leading the way.
So winning in Norman would be a rarity for Nebraska, but it has been that kind of season for the Huskers. The program had never won in seven previous trips to Texas Tech, but did just that in a big way -- 89-47 -- on Jan. 27.
Nebraska has never had the Big 12 player or coach of the year before, but Griffin and Connie Yori seem the odds-on favorites to take those honors. Griffin also could become just the second Husker to be named to the State Farm (formerly Kodak) All-America team. Karen Jennings got that honor in 1993, when she also won the Wade Trophy.
If the Huskers can beat the Sooners, they will clinch their first Big 12 regular-season championship. They won that title just once in the Big Eight days, in 1988.
But the Sooners are likely to be a tall order for Nebraska. On Feb. 15, Oklahoma gave unbeaten and No. 1 UConn a run for its money before falling 76-60.
The Sooners got caught Sunday in what coach Sherri Coale called a "trap game" -- a road game sandwiched between two high-profile home games. And it looked very much like the Sooners were going to be caught in that trap: They trailed Kansas State by 21 points with 16 minutes remaining.
Then, as only she can, Coale explained how the pilot light finally was lit for the Sooners, who scrambled back and won 64-58.
"I really think there was a play by Amanda Thompson where she came in and got a rebound that just had sound effects with it," Coale said. "She maniacally went after the board. And it was almost as if everybody was trying to figure out how to compete at a high level, and they could not put their finger on it.
"And then they watched her and thought, 'Oh, OK, that's what we do,' and it was like she just cut a swath and everybody jumped on and followed her."
Griffin knows plenty about cutting swaths; that's what she has done her whole career for the Huskers. She's second in the Big 12 among currently active players -- KU's Danielle McCray, unfortunately, is out with an ACL injury -- in scoring (19.5 ppg) and leads the league in rebounding (10.2 rpg).
The Huskers have reached their 25-0 record by never getting ahead of themselves, so they're not about to see the Sooners as their last big barrier to a perfect regular season. They won't take their last three games -- at home against Missouri and Kansas, then on the road against Kansas State -- for granted.
And they shouldn't. Nebraska had to rally furiously to win at Missouri on Feb. 13, and we just saw the Wildcats' upset potential against Oklahoma. Plus, Kansas is playing for its NCAA tournament life at this point.
Yet the reality is that this matchup with the Sooners is the game that has stood out on the Huskers' schedule for a while now as their biggest danger left before the postseason.
The schools have been rivals a long, long time. One of the most hyped college football contests in history -- the so-called "Game of the Century" before that became an every-season hyperbole -- was between No. 1 Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971.
But the women's basketball programs have never met in a game like this before. No, a conference title realistically isn't on the line; if Nebraska doesn't get it Wednesday, it seems highly probable the Huskers will do that Saturday at home versus Missouri.
However, there are important things at stake. The Sooners are trying to nail down second place in the league. Both teams are playing for NCAA seeding; Nebraska is in line now for a No. 1 slot.
And while fans are curious about how the two current unbeatens would do against each other, we won't get that matchup unless it happens in the NCAA tournament. So gauging how both the Huskies and Huskers play at Oklahoma -- just nine days apart -- is the best thing we have right now for comparing UConn and Nebraska.
Further, there is some history the Sooners hope to protect. The only other Big 12 women's team to have a perfect league record since the Big 12 started is Oklahoma, which did it in 2006. The Sooners would like to keep it that way this season.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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