One year ago, the Kentucky Wildcats finished 16-16. Now, they are 26-7, and finished second in the SEC.
Nebraska can relate. They finished 15-18, and finished last in the Big 12. This year, the Huskers have reeled off 32 wins and a Big 12 Title.
The similarities continue. Both teams have their respective conferences coach of the year award winner (Connie Yori- Nebraska, Matthew Mitchell- Kentucky) and player of the year award winner (Kelsey Griffin- Nebraska, Victoria Dunlap- Kentucky).
"Yeah, there's no question a lot of parallels there," said Nebraska head coach Connie Yori. "You can go back a little further. My first year at Nebraska we were picked last in the Big 12, and we met our expectations that year and actually finished 12th. And Kentucky this year being picked 11th and being able to finish in second place in the SEC is just a phenomenal coaching effort and player effort."
So what has led each team to the sweet 16? Star power.
|Head Coach Connie Yori at the NCAA
press conference in Kansas City.
Nebraska is led by senior Kelsey Griffin who averages 20.3 points per game. Kentucky is led by junior forward Victoria Dunlap, who averages 17.7 points per game. Each of these players has helped push their teams to the pinnacle of their sport.
"Dunlap is as athletic a player as there is in the country," said Yori. "She is a phenomenal athlete and scores in a variety of ways. They (Kentucky) definitely provide a lot of problems for us really on both ends."
Kentucky's own conference coach of the year had similar remarks on the Nebraska's undoubted star.
"Well, first of all, she is amazing, she is an amazing basketball player," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. It would be hard for me to be more impressed with someone than I am with Kelsey Griffin. She gets a lot done just with her physical strength, her determination, just a really tough player."
Much of the talk of Nebraska's success has been about the Huskers "Big Four" scorers (Kelsey Griffin, Cory Montgomery, Yvonne Turner, and Dominique Kelley). However, Nebraska has one of the best kept secrets in women's college basketball. Freshman point guard Lindsey Moore.
Moore has gradually improved into a weapon for Nebraska. Her best performance came in the second round of the tournament in the Huskers win over UCLA. Moore finished with nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Moore's ability to distribute the ball has helped the "Big Four" scorers put up their usual numbers, but Moore can shoot just as well as she passes. In her first season, Moore's play has helped earn the respect of her veteran teammates.
"If you didn't look at the roster, you wouldn't expect her to be a freshman," said NU senior forward Kelsey Griffin. "She knows the game obviously really well. She's a smart player. She knows how to play under pressure, doesn't seem to phase her. I wish I had more years that I could play with her to be honest."
The game on Sunday night will be played in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The game will mark the first time Nebraska has played in the Sprint Center this season, but not the first time they have played in Kansas City.
The last time Nebraska played in Kansas City, they fell for the first and only time of the season (80-70 loss to Texas A&M). Nebraska boasts a 32-1 record entering their match with Kentucky. Whenever a team loses like the Huskers did, the question arises: was the single loss a positive?
"We do have less pressure right now that we feel, we've gone to the Sweet 16 and we're showing that we're a good team and we worked hard to get to where we're at.," said NU senior forward Cory Montgomery. "So we're going to just keep going out and playing Nebraska basketball and keep playing as a team and doing the things we've been doing all year long."
Tipoff for the game between the Cornhuskers and Wildcats is set for 9:00 CT. at the Sprint Center.
Follow along with all of the day's events on my Sweet 16 Basketblog:
Also make sure to check out the audio from the press conference with Connie Yori and her team
Connie Yori -
Husker players -