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  1. 2010 Mar 29

    WBB: Kentucky Cuts Short NU's Final Four Quest


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    A dream season for the Nebraska women’s basketball team ended abruptly and painfully Sunday night in the wake of Kentucky’s dizzying, chaotic style.

    The Wildcats, aided by a key 11-1 run to start the second half, stunned the top-seeded Cornhuskers 76-67 in the Sweet 16 round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. A combination of 13 offensive rebounds, ten steals and eight 3-pointers helped tenacious UK carve out a 19-point lead and hold off a strong Nebraska rally.

    Where a loose ball was to be grabbed, the Wildcats, shoving, stumbling and clawing, usually got there first. Kentucky pounded the taller Huskers on the boards 35-26 and swamped All-American Kelsey Griffin with ball pressure.

    “They were either as quick or quicker at every position than us, and that was the difference,” head coach Connie Yori said. “They got every loose ball. They chased down loose ball rebounds. They beat us to the ball.”

    Thus, a NU-friendly crowd at Kansas City’s Sprint Center sat on its hands until junior guard Dominique Kelley - who led all scorers with 22 points - spearheaded a furious run to bring Nebraska within seven in the final minute.

    The hole was just too big. Nebraska ended its season at 32-2, while fourth-seeded Kentucky, now 27-7, advanced to Tuesday night’s Elite Eight where Oklahoma - which beat Notre Dame 77-72 in overtime - awaits.

    In a season of record-breaking performances, NU won’t be defined by an ugly loss. But it cut short its quest for the Final Four nonetheless.

    Kentucky hounded the Huskers from the jump with its half-court trapping defense, forcing five quick turnovers. Still, Nebraska led 11-9 with 13:50 left in the first half. UK then hit 12 of its next 16 shots as NU struggled to handle the Wildcats’ perimeter quickness.

    “They came out and got us on our heels,” Yori said.

    Just a 31-percent shooting team beyond the arc during the season, Kentucky hit 8-of-16 Sunday night. Guards A’dia Mathies and Keyla Snowden combined to hit six of them. Five makes in a row helped the Wildcats build a 43-34 halftime lead.

    Nebraska wanted to quickly close that gap in the second half. Instead, the Huskers played their worst five minutes of the season. Six missed shots. Three turnovers. And the wrong end of a 11-1 run that left NU, with 15 minutes remaining, staring at its largest deficit of the season.

    “We didn't do the things we talked about at halftime,” Yori said.

    The Huskers crawled off the canvas and slowly began a counter-attack. Kelley gashed into the lane for layups. Griffin, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, better controlled the paint. Cory Montgomery, who spent most of the game getting overmatched by UK center Victoria Dunlap, started to create shots for herself.

    “We never were going to give up and just let Kentucky walk away with a win,” Montgomery said.

    Kelley sliced the lead to ten, at 68-58, with 3:40 left. Nebraska’s full-court pressure had begun to work. But UK got a huge break when a errant pass hit Dunlap’s hand and ricocheted into the basket for two points. A few plays later, a poor Wildcat shot caromed wildly into the hands of Mathies, who was all alone on the other side of the basket. She calmly laid in the ball.

    “Every time it seemed like we could kind of get a little break, they just hit a big shot or stole a ball,” Griffin said.

    Still, NU pressed forward, closing to 74-67 with 53 seconds left. Dunlap missed a shot on Kentucky’s ensuing possession, and Griffin, attempting a shot on her own end, appeared to draw a foul on Dunlap. No whistle came.

    Another Kansas City disappointment.

    “I'm sure it'll hit us all when we wake up tomorrow morning and don't go to the gym to practice,” Montgomery said.

    Beyond that initial sting is this: The most successful team, men’s or women’s, in Nebraska basketball history. A surefire All-American award for Griffin. A perfect 29-0 regular season that included a Big 12 title. Packed houses at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on frigid, snowy nights. Smiles, tears and laughs. A foundation for what could be an emerging power in women’s college basketball.

    Another NU squad may break through to the Final Four. But this senior-laden bunch, Yori said, broke the mold.

    “I've been a head coach for 20 years, and this is absolutely the most unselfish team that I've ever coached,” Yori said. “They didn't care who got the credit. They weren't about points, rebounds, stats, minutes.

    “They were just about being great teammates, working every day to get better, and there's nothing more that you can ask for as a coach than having an opportunity to work with the young women in our program who have that great character.”

    Said Griffin: “We have helped put Nebraska on the map, and I'm so excited to see what the team is going to do next year.”

    Tags: wbb, ncaa tournament, connie yori, kelsey griffin, dominique kelley, cory montgomery

  2. 2010 Mar 22

    Husker Heartbeat 3/22: Crick, Connie, Cory and Compton


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Welcome to Husker Heartbeat - a sampling of links and quick wit to start your morning! Keep checking each morning, Monday-Friday, for new links! We look for the offbeat as well as the straightforward - so don’t just think of us as a typical link farm!

    A quick abbreviation key FYI: OWH=Omaha World-Herald, LJS=Lincoln Journal-Star, CN=Corn Nation, BRN=Big Red Network, HI=Huskers Illustrated, BRR=Big Red Report. If we need to add more - we will. Others, like ESPN, are self-explanatory.

    Cool? Cool!

    Bo Po Q&A. Nothing new here, but we know you’ll slurp it up. Jared Crick ignoring the preseason hype. Didya think he’d embrace it, LJS? Anyway you notice that blah-blah-blah reference at the top of the story? A nod to Ke$ha, perhaps? Nah, nah, nah, but it’s nice to wish. We’re fans of to-the-second pop cultural references.

    BRN breaks down the linebacker battle in detail. CN pores over the running backs.

    Bryce Brown is still at Tennessee - for now.

    Remember Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith? Dr. Saturday does. So do we. Smith is Mizzou’s best defensive lineman since, well, Smith - as in Justin Smith, who went in the top five of the 2000 NFL Draft.

    I smell roses for Connie Yori. So does OWH’s Tom Shatel, who suggests a raise may be in order. Pretty good for a girl from Ankeny, as Dirk Chatelain’s terrific story points out. Nice featurette on Cory Montgomery, too.

    Tags: husker heartbeat, connie yori, jared crick, cory montgomery, dirk chatelain, tom shatel, kesha, missouri, dr saturday, bryce brown, will compton

  3. 2010 Mar 20

    WBB: Poise And Pressure in the Big Dance


    By HuskerLocker

    In the midst of the most extraordinary run in the history of Nebraska women’s basketball, members of its best team walk to a small table that sits in front of about 15 men who search for wise questions on a subject unfamiliar to them. One inquisitor, refreshingly blunt, simply asks: What should fans look for the in the 2010 NCAA Women’s Tournament?

    “The games?” NU senior forward Cory Montgomery answers, just so. She isn’t flippant or slow to the uptake. Like her teammates, Montgomery simply is not searching for storylines. Greatness tends to exude a walk, a whiff, a look for earned arrogance, so it is rare to call a great team modest. Especially one that heads into Sunday night’s first round as the favorite to advance out of the Midwest Regional.

    But the 30-1 and top-seeded Cornhuskers may actually achieve it. Sangfroid. Equanimity.

    “Whatever happens, happens,” said Kelsey Griffin of the NCAA Tournament. “It won’t be for lack of effort or lack of trying.”

    Nebraska is the outlier. Its best player, Griffin, often sounds like she’s writing a thank you card out loud. Her reaction on conventional 3-point plays is even better - as if finding an basketball shoe she thought she lost, a pleasant, well-earned surprise. Head coach Connie Yori, I suspect, has a Master’s Degree in self-deprecation. Off the court, NU is practiced in the sports science of self-denial. Charitable. Loyal. Considerate and deferential of teammates. All of that.

    Which is funny, because the Huskers play the actual game like they’re entitled to every last steal, shot and point. With their hair on fire, hands flying everywhere, squeezing and clawing and scrapping and scooping and flipping and everything short of a dunk. Nebraska insists itself on opponents, chiseling at their resolve, threatening to bust free like a basketball bull itching to run down a loose ball.

    As the spotlight bore down on a team relatively unaccustomed to attention, Nebraska thrived doggedly, relentlessly. When Oklahoma appeared ready to shatter a perfect regular season and crawl its way back into the Big 12 race, NU responded with its gutsiest three minutes of the season and iced the Sooners on their home court.

    “I don’t think the pressure got to us,” Yori said.

    Nor does she suspect it will now, despite the bigger stage. Nor do I.

    But I wonder if Nebraska peaked that night in Norman. I wonder if that style, so aggressive and furious, can hold up over six games with a bench that participates - but isn’t very prolific.

    In trying to save its legs for NCAA Tournament, Nebraska nevertheless seemed tapped out and weak-legged in the Big 12 Tournament. Only the indefatigable Griffin seemed totally herself, and when she got in foul trouble vs. Texas A&M, her teammates weren’t able to compensate.

    A week off may rejuvenate the Huskers. Or the effects of the grind - and that full-court pressure - may set in even further.

    None of that should matter vs. Northern Iowa a 16th seed that can’t keep up with the Huskers’ athleticism. But the second-round game vs. North Carolina State or UCLA - my money is on the Wolfpack - will be a test. From there, NU has to rinse and repeat in Kansas City, where I sense the Sweet 16 game, whomever it is against, might be easier than Tuesday night in Minneapolis.

    Tags: connie yori, wbb, ncaa tournament, kelsey griffin, cory montgomery

  4. 2010 Mar 12

    BIG 12 TOURNAMENT: Griffin Carries NU Women to Win


    By HuskerLocker

    (Photo from Big 12 Sports.com)

    Locked in a tight, ugly game with Kansas State that threatened to set back women’s college basketball a few years, undefeated Nebraska found its redoubtable home base - Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsey Griffin. And did she ever go to work in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament.

    With NU clinging to a 27-26 halftime lead, Griffin scored 16 of the Cornhuskers’ first 22 points in the second half. In fact, she didn’t miss in five shots and six free throws. Griffin took two charges, too. At the end of her spree, Nebraska led the Wildcats 49-38, and eventually won 63-46. Next is a high noon Saturday game against either Texas or Texas A&M.

    The Huskers won their first league tourney game since 2005 as a large contingency of NU fans breathed a sigh of relief. A press corps - which included the New York Times - that wants Cinderella Nebraska to test Goliath Connecticut, pressed forward with its storyline. Griffin, who bailed out her team with 36 points in a 84-72 win over KSU last week, did it again.

    “She can take over,” NU coach Connie Yori said. “I feel like we didn’t get her the ball enough in the first half. When you have a variety of ways you can score, you have the capability of taking over the game like she did in that section.”

    The predictably-modest Griffin paid the praise forward to her teammates for pushing the ball up the court to set up easy shot opportunities.

    “I just let the game come to me,” she said. “I think we played more of our basketball.”

    Yes and no. Yori used reserve Kala Kuhlmann, Nicole Neals, Cathryn Redmon and Layne Reeves more than usual to preserve her team’s legs for the weekend, with disjointed results. NU made only 1-of-21 3-point attempts with a 0-for-12 performance at halftime. Several were airballs.

    Almost inexplicably, the No. 3 Huskers rushed possessions, often taking a shot at the first breath of daylight without a single rebounder underneath the basket. Kansas State held a 24-17 rebounding edge at halftime as a result.

    But Nebraska’s now 30-0 record has been built on stifling defense, and that didn’t change Friday, despite Yori using reserve guards Kala Kuhlmann, Nicole Neals and Layne Reeves more than usual to preserve her team’s legs for the weekend.

    NU forced 22 Wildcat turnovers - 15 in the first half - and a couple shot clock violations. In the second half, KSU (14-18) wilted under the Huskers’ stronger on-ball defense, shooting only 27 percent.

    “We’re a fighting team,” said senior Cory Montgomery, who scored 13 points and grabbed ten rebounds. “If we’re struggling in one area we know we need to pick it up in another area. We couldn’t get things going on offense, so we knew defense was really going to be a key in this game.”

    Tags: big 12 tournament, wbb, kelsey griffin, cory montgomery, connie yori

  5. 2010 Mar 08

    WBB: Griffin, Yori, Huskers Dominate Big 12 Awards


    By HuskerLocker

    To no one’s surprise, the Nebraska women’s basketball team vacuumed up the two biggest honors from the Big 12 Conference on Monday.

    Connie Yori won the league’s Coach of the Year award. Senior forward Kelsey Griffin won Player of the Year. Griffin, along with senior guard Vonnie Turner and senior forward Cory Montgomery, also appeared on the Big 12’s first team. Junior forward Dominique Kelley grabbed an honorable mention, while point guard Lindsey Moore landed on the All-Freshman team.

    And so each member of NU’s starting five - the lifeblood of a 29-0 regular season - won an honor of some kind. Turner was named co-Defensive Player of the Year with Baylor freshman Brittany Griner, and joined Griffin on the All-Defense Team.

    The glue was Griffin, who averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds after returning from reconstructive ankle surgery. The 6-foot-2 native of Eagle River, Alaska, is the second Husker, after forward Karen Jennings, to capture the conference Player of the Year. It’s also her third appearance on the All-Big 12 first team, as well.

    "Coming to Nebraska out of high school from Alaska five years ago, I never imagined this would be possible," Griffin said. "Actually, I never even imagined that I would be All-Big 12, let alone a player-of-the-year candidate. There have been so many great players in the conference during my time here.”

    Griffin was lightly regarded as a recruit.

    “Great example of why recruiting is not an exact science,” Yori said. “From the moment she walked on campus, she has set herself apart in her work ethic to make herself the best player that she can be, and that has been a daily process for her.”

    Yori won her second league coach-of-the-year award. She won at Creighton in 2002, as well. NU went from a 15-16 last year to one of the nation’s best.

    "I've got great players to work with every day who have given everything they can to make this program great," Yori said. "I am thankful I get to work with them every day because not every team is like this group. These honors aren't given to coaches because they are smarter than anybody else. They are given because their players buy into team concepts."

    Tags: wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, vonnie turner, cory montgomery, lindsey moore, dominique kelley

  6. 2010 Mar 06

    WBB: Perfecto!


    By HuskerLocker

    On the cusp of completing a perfect regular season, the Nebraska women’s basketball team found itself, as it often has during the last month, in the seeming grip of defeat at Kansas State Saturday, trailing 45-34 late in the first half.

    As is her forte - and legacy at NU - senior forward Kelsey Griffin kept the Cornhuskers in the game - then helped wriggle them free.

    In a vintage, memorable performance, Griffin scored a career-high 36 points on 15-of-19 shooting in an 82-72 victory over the Wildcats. Making a hard push for the Naismith Award as the best player in women’s college basketball, Griffin scored 16 in the first half while NU’s defense was a sieve, then tacked on 20 in the second, spearheading an 18-3 run that put KSU in the hurt locker.

    “Kelsey has the strongest will and the most mental toughness of any player I have ever coached,” Nebraska head coach Connie Yori said. “She was not going to let us lose that game today."

    It's the first undefeated regular season for any Big 12 team. NU has easily assured itself, too, of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, although nothing is official

    Nebraska (29-0 overall and 16-0 in the Big 12 Conference) had to withstand eight first half 3-pointers from the Wildcats (13-17 and 5-11), the last of which, by Brittany Chambers, gave Kansas State a 45-34 lead with 1:19 remaining before halftime. Griffin answered with a jumper 14 seconds later, followed up by a shot from Cory Montgomery to cut the halftime lead to seven.

    “We didn't have any sense of panic in the locker room,” Griffin said.

    Two Griffin steals keyed the 18-3 run to start the second half. Senior guard Yvonne Turner scored all nine of her points in that stretch, as well. By the 15:32 mark, NU led 56-48 and Kansas State was forced to call a timeout. She then scored 13 of NU’s next 20 points.

    Kansas State remained in striking distance until the 1:53 mark, when Cory Montgomery nailed a 3-pointer to give Nebraska a 78-68 lead.

    Tags: wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, vonnie turner, cory montgomery

  7. 2010 Mar 04

    Podcast 3/4: 28-0, Baby!


    By HuskerLocker

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

    Join Husker Locker today - it's free!

    Tags: podcasts, mbb, wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, cory montgomery

  8. 2010 Feb 24

    Big 12 Champs! NU Knocks Out Nemesis OU!


    By HuskerLocker

    Locked in a slugfest that borrowed intensity and high stakes from a storied football rivalry involving the same programs, the No. 3 Nebraska women’s basketball team clinched its first regular season Big 12 title with a decisive knockout blow of No. 10 Oklahoma.

    Trailing 63-62 with 3:20 left in the game, a raucous crowd of 7,756 at the Lloyd Noble Center on its feet, NU launched a stunning 18-1 run to finish the Sooners 80-64, touching off a celebration in which head coach Connie Yori traded high-fives and hugs with the Cornhusker bench.

    “Tonight was an example of just how tough we are,” head coach Connie Yori said on her postgame radio show. “It would have been so easy to lose tonight.”

    Dethroning the reigning Big 12 champions on their home court was precisely the way Nebraska wanted to clinch the crown. Seniors Kelsey Griffin, Cory Montgomery and Vonnie Turner each took turns in the final minutes making sure it would happen.

    Montgomery, who finished with 24 points, hit a short jumper at the 3:18 mark to give NU the lead. Turner, who sat nearly the entire first half with foul trouble, stole the ball on OU’s next possession and completed a 3-point play with a layup, foul and free throw. Then Griffin, offering up a signature performance - 30 points and 13 rebounds - iced the game with free throws and rebounds.

    At 26-0 overall and 13-0 in the league, NU can’t be caught. After beating Oklahoma for the first time in five years, it now faces three lower-division Big 12 teams. The pathway to a perfect conference record - and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament - seems clear.

    And Yori, often stoic and self-deprecating during this historic season, smiled, laughed and cried after the win.

    “It’s taken eight years to get to this point,” Yori said.. “It hasn’t been easy. It’s been pretty darn hard at times. And these guys I get to coach every day? They’re just a phenomenal group…I’m very, very privileged to coach them.”

    Said Griffin: "We have been focused all season on our next practice and our next game. Tonight we are going to enjoy this victory. We have earned that. Tomorrow, we are going to be ready for our best practice of the year.”

    Yori took over a team in 2002 beset with academic and disciplinary problems. She cleaned house completely, even scouring the sorority houses on campus for reserves. Those Huskers finished 1-15 in the Big 12 - and yet, Yori said, small home crowds gave them “standing ovations” for the effort.

    That same faithful following circled around Yori on the bleachers in Norman Wednesday night as she conducted her radio show. They watched NU hold cold-shooting OU at bay most of the night, then kick its game into another gear once the Sooners made their final push.

    Nebraska led 33-29 at halftime thanks to Griffin’s 16 points and Montgomery’s seven. Turner sat the last 18:43 of the first half with two fouls. Upon her return in the second half, two quick steals immediately helped NU take a 38-29 lead. OU clawed within four. Then Nebraska staked leads of 45-36 and 52-42.

    Both times, Oklahoma came back behind point guard Danielle Robinson, who finished with 15 points, and giant forward Abi Olajuwon, who battled with Griffin all night, and finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

    The Sooners (19-8 and 9-4) took a 56-54 lead with 6:40 left when Jasmine Hartman hit a 3-pointer. The teams traded points for the next three minutes. Then NU put on the afterburners.

    With OU’s defense sagging on Griffin, Montgomery was the key. In a five-minute stretch, she scored 11 points that included two treys. The second of those gave Nebraska a 70-63 lead with 2:26 left. Oklahoma, which only hit 2-of-13 3-pointers for the night, didn’t have the long-distance shooting to come back.

    Tags: wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, cory montgomery

  9. 2010 Feb 20

    WBB: Buffs Bumped


    By HuskerLocker

    Colorado gave the Nebraska women’s basketball its best offensive shot. Quite a few of them, in fact.

    But No. 3 NU won its 25th-straight game by fighting the Buffaloes’ fire with fire in a 89-73 victory. CU hit 15 3-pointers in front of 12,747 fans at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. But the Cornhuskers, paced by forward Kelsey Griffin’s 25 points, shot 50 percent from the field - including 60 percent inside the arc.

    After busting open a 25-all tie midway through the first half with a 15-2 run, Nebraska and Colorado traded baskets - at a brisk clip - for the rest of the game. Colorado hit its jumpers - Brittany Spears finished with 26 points six treys - but it had little answer for Griffin, who hit 10-of-14 shots, and senior Cory Montgomery, who hit 8 of 14. NU also forced 17 Buffalo turnovers.

    Huskers head coach Connie Yori called the victory “a great team win.”

    “It would have been really easy to lose that game,” Yori said. “It felt like Colorado couldn't miss. They hit some tough shots. But our players worked hard on the boards, kept the pressure up and kept running the floor and did a lot of little things to win the game.”

    NU is now 12-0 on the Big 12 campaign, which ties a league record with Oklahoma - which also happens to be Nebraska’s next - and arguably toughest - opponent of the season.

    Tags: wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, cory montgomery

  10. 2010 Feb 07

    WBB: Griffin, Kelley Ice Aggies


    By HuskerLocker

    From start to finish, it was a up-tempo, high-pressure game of runs. The kind of contest Nebraska’s women’s basketball team excels at winning.

    No change in the script Saturday, as NU stayed perfect, staving off hard-charging No. 12 Texas A&M 71-60 with free throws and a double dose of post - forwards Kelsey Griffin and Cory Montgomery, who combined for 39 points, 15 rebounds and four steals.

    When the athletic Aggies cut the lead to 65-60 with three minutes left - few teams have been so close to the Huskers so late in a game - Griffin responded with four straight points, including a key layup off an assist from guard Dominique Kelley.

    “Our toughness down the stretch was terrific,” NU head coach Connie Yori said.

    Montgomery did her damage earlier in the game, rattling home two 3-pointers as part of her 18-point effort.

    In front of 10,889 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center - the third straight crowd over 10,000 - NU dominated at the free throw line - outscoring A&M 16-1 - but did most of that damage in the first half, as the Huskers forged a 40-29 halftime lead.

    The Aggies switched to a zone in the second half - Yori called it a "junk defense" - frustrating Nebraska more than any team has this year; NU (21-0 overall and 8-0 in the Big 12) made just 38 percent of its shots, and reached the line just four times in the final 20 minutes. For the game, Nebraska made only 5 of 22 3-point attempts.

    “They gave us our money’s worth,” Griffin said.

    Naturally, the Huskers’ defense picked up the slack, harassing A&M (16-5 and 4-4) into 16 turnovers and a whopping 40 misses. The Aggies repeatedly settled for jumpers, and played at NU’s pace, which led to wild, ill-advised shots.

    “(NU) is a team that has a chance of getting to that Final Four,” A&M coach Gary Blair said.

    Tags: wbb, connie yori, kelsey griffin, dominique kelley, cory montgomery

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