After upset, Aggies ready to face OU
Huskers refuse to hang heads after unbeaten season comes to an end
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- So there went Nebraska's undefeated season, gone with a 80-70 loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament semifinals Saturday that was an "upset" only to those who hadn't seen much of the rising Aggies recently.
And the Huskers' reaction to this disruption of their perfection? Well, they weren't really broken up about it. This team, which has six seniors, reflects coach Connie Yori, who is the consummate realist.
"I'm still extremely excited with what we've been able to accomplish," Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin said. "And I know the most exciting part of our year is just going to be starting Monday."
In other words, Griffin's demeanor actually seemed not much different than it had been after the Huskers' 30 consecutive victories this season. Nebraska's favorite Alaskan had foul trouble to deal with, which hampered her aggressiveness. That hurt the Huskers on the boards -- A&M won the rebounding battle 46-32 -- and Nebraska also didn't help itself at the line (19-of-32).
Griffin still finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, while junior Dominique Kelley led the Huskers with 18 points.
Unlike No. 1 UConn, Nebraska didn't come into this season as the defending national champion expected to repeat. Heck, the Huskers didn't even make the NCAA tournament last year and were picked to finish sixth this season in the Big 12.
"We can't lose confidence with one loss," Yori said. "That's a really good basketball team we lost to."
Indeed, the Aggies -- who are looking to win the Big 12 title here in K.C. as the No. 4 seed just as they did in 2008 -- have been very good of late. Texas A&M has won eight of its past nine games. The Aggies now will face the program that has had the most success in the Big 12 tourney: Oklahoma, which continued its mastery of the past decade-plus over Oklahoma State. The Sooners' 74-69 victory over the Cowgirls gives them a 25-2 record against their Bedlam rival since 1999.
The third-seeded Sooners will be going for their fifth title Sunday; no other school has won the tournament more than twice. But Oklahoma also knows how Nebraska feels. Last season, the Sooners were the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tourney but fell in the semifinals. Oklahoma recovered from that to advance to the Final Four.
"When you play in the league like this, you can't be too affected ever [by a loss]," OU coach Sherri Coale said. "I think Connie Yori and Nebraska will be just fine."
The Sooners have been fine despite losing Courtney and Ashley Paris to graduation and Whitney Hand to a knee injury in November. On Saturday, point guard Danielle Robinson had 19 points, and forward Amanda Thompson had 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Oklahoma State's Andrea Riley had 32 points, and finishes her three days in K.C. now owning Big 12 records in career scoring (2,804 points), tournament total scoring (112), and tournament single-game scoring (43 Friday against Iowa State).
Riley, however, was reticent to talk about all those points. Instead, she said the record she most values is the Oklahoma State assist mark she broke here. With 11 assists in the three games, she has 700 for her career, breaking Liz Brown's record of 695.
But there's no reason for Riley to seem almost embarrassed to talk about her scoring. Isn't the whole object of basketball to get the most points? And while some criticize Riley for the amount of shots she takes, would you prefer she not listen to coach Kurt Budke's instructions? He has told her: shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. And then shoot some more.
"She's got to go down as one of the toughest kids in the history of the Big 12 for what she's meant for this program," Budke said.
However, Riley now must serve a one-game suspension imposed by the NCAA for an altercation in Oklahoma State's regional semifinal against LSU in 2008. So the Cowgirls must try to get past the NCAA tournament's first round without her.
"I've got confidence in my teammates," Riley said. "I'm going to have so much faith, and believe that they're going to win the game."
Nebraska was trying to become the first North division team to win the Big 12 tourney title since Iowa State did it in 2001. Instead, the Huskers fell short of making their first league title game, but shouldn't fall short of an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed and a chance to return to Kansas City if they make the Sweet 16.
"Ideally, we would love to be in Minneapolis [for the early rounds], and hopefully that will lead us back here," Yori said of the Huskers' hope to be in the Kansas City Regional. "But the No. 1 goal for us from the beginning of the season has been that we're going to be a great practicing team. We're going to prepare well."
Texas A&M and Oklahoma have less than 24 hours to prepare for their third meeting of the season; they split the previous two.
A&M now has an inside scoring presence in Danielle Adams and Adaora Elonu -- they combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds Saturday -- that the Aggies lacked in 2008, when they advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.
"When the both of us step up our game, it's very hard to guard any of us," Elonu said. "Because you can't sag on our guards."
No, you certainly can't. Tyra White (13 points) and Tanisha Smith (nine) are big guards who run the court very well. And the two-headed point guard -- Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter -- combined for 16 points and seven of A&M's 18 assists. Carter also had nine rebounds.
There really wasn't much of anything the Aggies did wrong, as they shot 53.1 percent from the field and played a fairly rare-for-them matchup zone that Nebraska didn't solve.
"We're practicing well. We've got depth. And I've got a bench full of scoring options," A&M coach Gary Blair said. "I told our team we're very similar to Nebraska because we play with a lot of emotion and fire.
"And I said Stanford, Connecticut and Tennessee are all sitting back watching this ballgame to find out if either one of us are for real. I mean Connie and Gary -- you don't say that in the same breath that you say Tara, Geno and Pat. But Connie and Gary are not bad for what we've done with our programs."
And neither is Sherri. Either Coale or Blair will win a Big 12 title Sunday, then both will watch Monday to see if they have a potential NCAA regional matchup with Tara VanDerveer's Stanford team, Geno Auriemma's UConn team or Pat Summitt's Tennessee team.
"I think this tournament has been such a reflection of the strength of this league," Coale said. "Nebraska was undefeated. Undefeated! And they lose in the semis of our tournament to a team that played very, very well. I think a lot of the teams in this league have a chance to go into the [NCAA] tournament and really make some noise."
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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