The nice thing about the blog is we can keep dissecting this season even after it’s over … kind of like when you might still be talking about a movie weeks after seeing it.
So … here’s a topic: What the heck happened to Nebraska anyway?
The most emotional that I saw the Huskers and coach Connie Yori during the season was after they clinched the Big 12 regular-season title on Feb. 24 with a victory at Oklahoma. Looking back, that really was the high point for this team.
After the Huskers finished the regular season at Kansas State, Yori was really frank about saying she wasn’t sure her team would fare well in the Big 12 tournament. She had said all along this was a great practicing/preparation team, and that playing three games in three days was not going to be to the Huskers’ strength.
As it turned out, that didn’t even come into play because the Texas A&M defeated Nebraska in the semifinals.
The Huskers weren’t overly upset after that loss, which ended their perfect season, because the goal never had been to be perfect. The goal was to get further in the NCAA tournament than they ever had, and they did that by making the Sweet 16.
Nebraska was a terrific story all season, and not the least of the reasons for that was that so many really good people were involved in it – from Yori to Kelsey Griffin to the passionate radio crew of Matt Coatney/SID Jeff Griesch to all those folks who endure the frozen corn stalk winters of the Midwest and found the Huskers brought them so much happiness.
But it was a team that did have some flaws to attack, including the struggle it typically was for Nebraska if Griffin was in any kind of foul trouble and unable to play as aggressively as she usually did. Other than State Farm All-American Griffin, Nebraska was a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” team and that made for a very special regular season. But after that, Nebraska just didn’t hold up as well against two teams _ A&M and Kentucky – that controlled the pace and had the skills/speed/quickness to beat the Huskers more or less at their own game.
Add in that the Huskers really didn’t know much about how to be a favorite, and that was to be expected. Nebraska just doesn’t have any history of being a “target” for other teams in hoops. Yes, I picked the Huskers to advance to the Final Four, because if they would have played well, they did have the capacity to make it that far.
However, it just wasn’t a surprise for it to end the way it did, in the regional semifinals against Kentucky. Covering women’s hoops for a long, long time now, I’ve seen programs make big jumps in a certain season … but when it comes to the postseason, the pressure amps up and that’s where previous experience – or lack of it _ often really makes a big impact.
It’s a flawed analogy, but it’s a bit like the difference between doing a drill of something – like say evacuating a building or performing CPR _ and then having to do it for real. This is not to suggest that the regular season is just a big dress rehearsal, per se, it’s just that there’s no way to replicate that “This is it” feeling until it actually is that time when a loss means the end of a season and careers.
I think it’s really hard to make the big jump and visit to the Final Four in the same year. Look at Oklahoma, which made a jump in 2000, another in 2001 and then the Final Four in 2002.
And the experience doesn’t just come from the players. It comes from the staff, too. That’s why even though, of course, no one on this season’s Oklahoma team was playing for the Sooners eight years ago when they were here in San Antonio, the fact that Sherri Coale was here helped this season’s team. It already had its own edge just because most of the players were on last season’s Final Four team, too.
The really interesting thing for me about Nebraska is whether the bump the Huskers got in status this season will translate on the recruiting trail. If it doesn’t, then 2009-10 was sort of a great gift that Nebraska fans should appreciate and remember, but not necessarily anticipate happening with any regularity.
But if it does open some recruiting doors, then Huskers followers will one day look back at this season fondly not just for what happened with this team, but how it affected Nebraska squads down the line.