No. 4 Nebraska 83, N. Iowa 44
After watching Northern Iowa shock top-seeded Kansas in the men's tournament on Saturday night, Nebraska women's coach Connie Yori turned to her husband and said, ``I hope it's not UNI's year.''
Her Cornhuskers proved that it definitely is not, on the women's side at least.
Kelsey Griffin had 22 points and nine rebounds to lead Nebraska to an 83-44 victory over 16th-seeded Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament Sunday night.
Dominique Kelley added 11 points for Nebraska (31-1), the top-seeded team in the Kansas City regional.
``That was definitely motivation that you have to bring it every night in order to stay playing,'' Griffin said of the Panthers' upset of the Jayhawks. ``We definitely needed that.''
Lizzie Boeck had 10 points and eight rebounds for Northern Iowa (17-16), one day after the Panthers men's team busted brackets across the country by ousting Kansas in the second round of the tournament.
After a shaky start, the Huskers bounced back from a loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament semifinals to show that they are still a team to be reckoned with in this tournament.
The Huskers, who were 15-16 a year ago when Griffin missed the season with a foot injury, went 29-0 in the regular season and have designs on challenging blue bloods UConn, Tennessee and Stanford - the other three No. 1 seeds - for a national title.
On a day when two 11-seeds and a 12th seed scored upsets, Nebraska wasn't about to become the second No. 1 seed in women's tourney history to lose in the opening round.
``I definitely think it helps with our nerves,'' guard Lindsey Moore said. ``We got that first one under our belts, calm down and actually focus and be able to execute.''
Yori didn't take it easy on Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren, her teammate in college at Creighton.
The Huskers blew the game open with a 22-7 spurt to start the second half, forced 17 Panthers turnovers and made 10 of 20 3-pointers to move on to the second round.
From the way the Panthers started, it was clear they were still inspired from the men's team shocker the night before. Ali Farokhmanesh and the ninth-seeded men upended the tournament's No. 1 overall seed in Kansas with a combination of clutch shot-making and a refusal to back down against the best the Big 12 had to offer.
The Panther women were similarly undaunted early against the Cornhuskers, the Big 12 regular season champs. The Northern Iowa defense pestered Nebraska into a slow start from the field, forcing misses on seven of the Cornhuskers' first nine attempts.
``We thought it was our turn,'' senior Danielle Wubbens said. ``The men, they did something great and we thought we could do something, too. We gave it our best shot. The ball just wasn't going through the hoop tonight.''
Midway through the period, the Huskers were clinging to a 20-18 lead before they turned up the heat on defense to start to overwhelm the Panthers, who shot 29 percent for the game and 2 for 23 from 3-point range.
Nebraska had eight steals in the opening period and forced 12 turnovers. A 3 by Yvonne Turner gave Nebraska a 35-24 lead just under three minutes before the half, and the Panthers never challenged after that.
Panthers guard Jacqui Kalin, an All-Missouri Valley Conference player and the team's leading scorer during the regular season, missed her first 11 shots and finished with two points on 1-for-12 shooting.
``I'm extremely proud of this group and what they accomplished,'' said Warren, whose Panthers beat Bradley, Illinois State and Creighton to win the conference tournament title and get to their first NCAA tournament. ``Hopefully this is the start of some good things for this program.''