N. Iowa-Nebraska Preview
Tanya Warren and Connie Yori were in seventh grade when they first met on a club team, budding basketball stars growing up in Iowa. They found themselves together again in college.
Their jerseys - Warren's No. 10 and Yori's No. 25 - are the only ones ever retired by the Creighton University women's program, sure signs of their on-court success. The story didn't end there, though, and they had a sense it wouldn't.
Warren and Yori saw future coaches in each other, and those visions have collided this weekend. Warren's Northern Iowa team will take on Yori's top-seeded Nebraska squad (30-1) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday in Minneapolis.
``She was always someone who was very astute and saw the game at a different level than a lot of players. Her team definitely plays like the Tanya Warren I remember as a player,'' Yori said Saturday, adding: ``Some players see the game in fast motion. Some see it in regular motion. And others see it in slow motion. She saw the game in slow motion.''
Yori joked that Warren would ``claim that every one of my points were attributed to her assists,'' and Warren later tossed a good-natured barb back at her friend when asked if she believed then that Yori would one day be a coach herself.
``She was always telling everybody what to do,'' Warren said, smiling. ``No question.''
Northern Iowa (17-15) has never been to the tournament before, a thrilling experience the Panthers earned by winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship game last Sunday. They beat, interestingly, Creighton by one point and drew the dreaded No. 16 seed.
When their name appeared on the TV screen on top of Nebraska's during the selection show, Warren was one proud head coach.
``To me it couldn't be more fitting,'' she said.
History, logic and simple analysis fully support Nebraska's advancement, of course. Unlike on the men's side, however, there is a hope for Northern Iowa. That's the 1998 Harvard team, which stunned No. 1 seed Stanford and remains the only No. 16 seed to ever win a game in this tournament.
Like a true coach, Warren popped in a video of that very game for her players on the 3 1/2-hour bus ride from Cedar Falls, Iowa. Sophomore point guard Jacqui Kalin, a self-described ``basketball junkie,'' had a blast watching the last 8 minutes of the epic.
``Anything is possible,'' Kalin said. ``It's March madness.''
To join Harvard's exclusive club, the Panthers must figure out how to keep Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsey Griffin quiet.
After missing last season due to a foot injury, while the Cornhuskers went 15-16 following consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Griffin led the conference with 18 double-doubles and scored a career-high 36 points against Kansas State on March 6 to seal the first perfect conference record in Big 12 history. Nebraska's only loss all season came in the conference semifinals to Texas A&M.
The Cornhuskers are the odd duck among this year's No. 1 seeds, far behind Connecticut, Stanford and Tennessee when it comes to historical dominance. They're not focused on the numbers, though.
``If a team wants to overlook us just because we're Nebraska, that's their problem, not ours,'' said guard Yvonne Turner.