Huskers join Huskies in basketball elite

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Huskies, make room for the Huskers.

It could be argued that top-ranked Connecticut, with its 62 straight victories and 30-point winning margins, is so dominant that a wire-to-wire run to a second straight national title is a done deal.

A more intriguing feel-good story is taking place on the Plains, where a Nebraska program with an undistinguished history is running the table, not to mention running over everybody, in the nation's strongest conference.

Cornhuskers coach Connie Yori and her players will tell you that they didn't expect to be 21-0 in February. They'll also tell you that they've been quietly building for a breakthrough year and came into the season believing they could win the Big 12.

"Everywhere I go, people ask me, 'Have you seen Nebraska? Are they that good?'" national TV and radio analyst Debbie Antonelli said. "They can do everything — beat you off the bounce, shoot the 3, they have size, they create space and they defend. Yeah, they're good."

How good?

"Nebraska is one of those teams that I really want to see play Connecticut," Antonelli said. "I want to see what they would be capable of doing with Connecticut and if they could take away a piece of something Connecticut does. No one can right now."

Gail Goestenkors' Texas team has lost to both UConn and Nebraska. She said she wouldn't bet against the Huskers in a matchup.

"They have the pieces you need to be really competitive with Connecticut," she said.

The Huskers have never advanced past the second round in eight NCAA tournament appearances, and they haven't won a conference title since taking the Big Eight in 1988. Last year's team, without injured star Kelsey Griffin, went 15-16, and it was no wonder Big 12 coaches picked the Huskers sixth in the preseason poll.

The Huskers didn't crack the Top 25 until after their eighth win, and they were 16-0 when they finally broke into the Top 10.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he hasn't seen Nebraska play and only recently took notice of the Huskers after his top assistant, Chris Dailey, gushed about them after seeing them on television.

"They certainly play in a terrific league, and for them to be doing what they're doing — I don't care who you are, where you play — if you're able to run off the number of wins they've been able to run off, that's unbelievably impressive," Auriemma said.

Yori and her players routinely sidestep questions about their dominance, talking instead about hard work in practice and trotting out the old one-game-at-a-time mantra.

Whatever they're doing is working: The Huskers go into Wednesday's game at Kansas following surprisingly easy wins of 88-67 over then-No. 10 Oklahoma State and 71-60 over then-No. 12 Texas A&M.

Griffin, averaging 19.4 points and 9.9 rebounds, is well on her way to becoming only the second All-American in program history. But her supporting cast grew and improved from having to play last season without her. Opponents who devote too many defensive resources to Griffin do so at their peril.

Cory Montgomery plays in Griffin's shadow in the frontcourt, yet she's the second-leading scorer at 13 points a game and is a dangerous perimeter shooter. Yvonne Turner has gone from being a defensive specialist to a capable scorer and one of the Big 12's top 3-point threats.

Dominique Kelley also can shoot the jumper, but she's best at penetrating and getting to the free-throw line. Freshman point guard Lindsey Moore is a rising star with her 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and her ability to hit the timely 3-pointer.

The Huskers' full-court defense is holding opponents to 55 points and 37 percent shooting each game.

"We've won in a lot of different ways this year," Yori said. "This is the best-coached league in the country. Everybody is going to try to take away things you can do. The fortunate thing is we've got some pretty good versatility and we can win in other ways."

The Huskers have five wins over Top 25 teams, including three that were in the Top 10 at the time they played. They have 18 wins by double digits, including 10 by 20 points or more.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said the Huskers remind him of the upstart 1991 UConn team that became the Huskies' first to reach the Final Four. All-American Kerry Bascom led that team much the way Griffin leads the 2010 Huskers.

"You don't have a lot of McDonald's All-Americans," Blair said. "You have kids who eat at Burger King who know how to play ball. When you don't have some of those All-Americans, you don't have to worry about egos. Everybody is happy."

Before this season, Nebraska had never won more than nine in a row. On Jan. 12, after Nebraska beat then-No. 19 Texas 91-79, Yori said: "We know we're not going to win every game, but at the same time, we're going to try to win every game."

Here it is, almost a month later, and the Huskers — like Connecticut — have yet to lose.

"We have eight remaining Big 12 games in the regular season and the Big 12 tournament and the postseason. So we have a long season ahead of us," Yori said. "We have to keep plugging away and getting better. I do know that it is a special group. The term 'being proud' is overused in athletics, but it's hard not to be proud of these guys."