So you may have seen that I wrote about Nebraska on ESPN.com. The headline for the story says, “Huskers are nation’s hottest team.”
I don’t write headlines. Or cutlines (aka captions for pictures). Or any display type. That’s done by editors at ESPN.com. Headlines generally are short and quick, and editors want them to have impact.
If you define the word “hot” as in what’s”exciting” and “happening” right at the moment, the Huskers are very hot because they’re a different face getting attention in the sport. I think that’s why that headline was used. But if people are taking this headline as meaning Nebraska is “hotter” than UConn in terms of how well they are playing, that’s absurd.
I didn’t write anything like that in the story, and I don’t think that. Nobody thinks that. This story wasn’t about Nebraska challenging UConn. It was just trying to explain what’s going on now at Nebraska.
Nebraska has had some good teams and good players – it’s not that the Huskers’ history is terrible. But they’ve never really cracked the national consciousness until now, because they’ve never gotten off to a start like this or had a team that appeared capable of competing at this level throughout a season.
Coach Angela Beck’s best team was in 1992-93, when the Huskers made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Lisa Leslie’s Southern Cal squad. Coach Paul Sanderford’s best team was in 1997-98, when they lost in the NCAA second round to an Old Dominion team that was seeded No. 1 that year.
Coach Connie Yori’s 2008 Huskers made it to the second round, but I think her best team – prior to this year – was in 2007, when Nebraska finished tied for fourth in the Big 12 and really should have defeated Temple in the NCAA’s first round.
But even with those teams, Nebraska lost eight (’93), 10 (’98), 10 (’07) and 12 (’08) games. The fewest games Nebraska has ever lost in a season is seven – in 1974-75 and 1987-88. In 34 total seasons of Husker basketball entering this year, the program has had single-digit loss totals in just five seasons.
All of that, I think, further puts into context why Nebraskans are so excited about this team. They’ve seen really good players, they’ve seen teams that click at times, they’ve seen potential … they’ve just never seen it all come together for as sustained a period as they have this year.
If you’re a UConn fan, you’ve probably either forgotten what that feels like – to make that kind of exhilarating breakthrough _ or you’re young enough that you’ve NEVER experienced UConn as anything but a Godzilla-sized powerhouse.
I mentioned in my story that UConn was building a Secretariat-like lead … just in case anyone is unfamiliar with his most famous blowout victory, he finished off the 1973 Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths.
I don’t know how much clearer I _ or anybody else in the media _ could possibly be about UConn’s dominance. If there were any doubters about whether the Huskies were not just favorites but prohibitive favorites, they were erased by the back-to-back victories over Notre Dame and Duke.
But I’m wondering if some UConn fans are now worried that the team is so good that people are somehow going to under-appreciate them. As in, they fear folks will say, “Oh, I’m sick of UConn, I don’t want to watch them,” and then miss actually seeing how good they are.
It also seems to me that to some degree, UConn fans may be defensive about how the team has been so dominant, as if they feel people are “blaming” the Huskies for taking the drama out of the season.
I always say you don’t get mad at whoever raises the bar for how high they raise it. You challenge everybody else to see who among them can try to get that high, too. If, like last season, nobody does that this season _ then so be it. That’s not UConn’s problem to worry about.
When people ask, “Is this bad for women’s basketball, to have UConn be so much better than everybody?” my response is that it’s ultimately a pointless question. Obviously, it’s exciting when there’s lot of competition for the top spot. But it’s never “bad” when a group of women play the sport as well as the Huskies are playing it.
That said, Nebraska is playing very well, and it’s fun to see the fans there enthusiastic about the team. A lot of followers of other Big 12 teams also are happy for the Huskers. They know the history of the program. They know what Kelsey Griffin has been through with injuries and her father’s cancer, and they applaud what a fine person and player she is. Most fans, as far as I can tell, like Yori,too. She’s down-to-earth and always respectful to her opponents.
Nebraska hopes to accomplish a lot of “firsts” this season. Not sure if the Huskers will be able to do things such as win their first Big 12 regular-season title, or their first Big 12 tournament title, or advance beyond the NCAA tournament’s second round. But with the senior leadership Nebraska has, it’s never been in better position to try.