By Mike Babcock & Jeff Griesch
"This team of Huskers likes to practice. And they say practice makes perfect. And now they are. Perfect regular season! Perfect regular season! Nebraska finishes the regular season perfect - 29-0!"
As those words boomed from the voice of Husker play-by-play announcer Matt Coatney, the Huskers completed the first unbeaten regular season by a Big 12 men's or women's basketball team in history in 2009-10.
Nebraska's win came with more than 2,000 Big Red fans on hand at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan., on a day that All-American Kelsey Griffin erupted for a career-high 36 points on 15-of-19 shooting from the field in an 82-72 win over the Wildcats on March 6, 2010.
For Griffin and the Huskers, it was another step in a history-making season that left the Nebraska record book in turmoil and the Husker Nation in a fan frenzy.
The win over Kansas State also capped a perfect 16-0 conference campaign that gave the Huskers their first-ever Big 12 crown. Nebraska clinched that title at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., as the No. 3 Huskers ran past No. 11 and defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma, 80-64 on Feb. 24.
Griffin, the 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year, dominated the Sooners as well, pouring in 30 points while pulling down 13 rebounds, as NU improved to 13-0 in league play.
Nebraska returned home to power past Missouri, 67-51, as Griffin led the Huskers with 19 points and career highs of 17 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Following the game, the first-ever sellout crowd of 13,595 fans at the Devaney Center stayed to witness the presentation of the Big 12 regular-season trophy and a net-cutting ceremony on the Huskers' homecourt.
After the ceremony, Griffin and the Huskers signed autographs for nearly 1,000 fans until almost midnight in the hallway near the locker room.
"We were sorry to keep them waiting so long, and we just couldn't stop signing," Griffin said. "Our fans have been awesome and it was an amazing night. We wanted to celebrate with them and send them home happy."
Griffin and the 2010 Huskers sent the fans home happy one more time on Senior Night with a 77-52 win over Kansas to complete a perfect 16-0 home campaign. Griffin and fellow first-team All-Big 12 selections Cory Montgomery and Yvonne Turner, along with seniors Kala Kuhlmann, Nicole Neals and Nikki Bober were honored as the largest and most successful senior class in school history.
More than 12,000 fans were on hand for their finale, the seventh consecutive crowd exceeding 10,000 to end the season - matching the total number of crowds of greater than 10,000 in the previous 35 seasons of Nebraska women's basketball.
The Huskers stretched their school-record winning streak to 30 games before falling in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals to No. 11 Texas A&M.
At 30-1, the Huskers earned the first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in school history, before beating Northern Iowa and UCLA at Williams Arena in Minneapolis to advance to the program's first NCAA Sweet 16.
Nebraska's breakthrough 32-2 season ended with a loss to No. 19 Kentucky at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. But the loss did not define the 2010 Huskers or their impact on Nebraska women's basketball.
In the locker room in the moments following the loss, Coach Connie Yori focused on the history and memories her team made.
"In the years to come when we look back on this year, we are going to remember everything that we accomplished," Yori said. "But you all know I've said this all along, when you look back on your time at Nebraska, you won't remember the wins and losses. You are going to remember all the great times you had with your teammates on and off the court."
Nebraska's focus on team chemistry, love and respect for one another, character, effort and mental toughness, allowed the Huskers to succeed at the highest levels of any team in school history.
Nebraska's first winner of the Senior CLASS Award in any sport, Griffin produced one of the best senior seasons in school history by averaging 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. She led an unprecedented hardware haul by Husker players by being named a first-team All-American by the WBCA, AP, USBWA and the Wooden Award.
A Wade and Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award finalist, Griffin was a three-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. She was joined by Montgomery and Turner on the first team, while Dominique Kelley earned honorable-mention accolades and Lindsey Moore was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
Griffin and Turner were both named to the league's five-player All-Defensive Team, while Turner was named the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
The Huskers continued to make history after the season ended, as Griffin was chosen as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft. Selected by the Minnesota Lynx and then traded to the Connecticut Sun, Griffin became the highest Husker draft pick in history.
A little more than one hour later, Montgomery joined Griffin as the first pick of the third round with the No. 25 overall pick to the New York Liberty.
"It was truly a special season - a season that we will all remember for the rest of our lives," Yori said. "This was the hardest working team and the best practicing team I have ever coached, and the results were obvious. This team deserved every win and every award it received."
Yori was named the WBCA, AP, USBWA, Naismith and Kay Yow National Coach of the Year. She also earned Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. She added Big Ten Coach-of-the-Year honors in 2013 and 2014.
In 2014, Nebraska captured its first-ever conference tournament title by winning the Big Ten crown at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Jordan Hooper, who replaced Griffin in Nebraska's starting lineup, earned Big Ten Player-of-the-Year honors and first-team WBCA All-America accolades - just like her predecessor.
Hooper, a 6-2 forward from Alliance, Neb., tied Griffin's school record with 40 double-doubles and was named a first-team Senior CLASS All-American. A tremendous outside shooter, Hooper also smashed NU's three-point record with 295 in her career. She averaged 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game to lead the Huskers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In 2013, Hooper helped the Big Red to their second NCAA Sweet 16, after leading NU to an NCAA Tournament bid in 2012. In her final three seasons, Hooper's Husker teams averaged 25 wins per season, the best three-year stretch in Nebraska history. Hooper went on to be the No. 13 overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Tulsa Shock.
Hooper's selection, which followed Lindsey Moore's No. 12 pick by the 2013 WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, gave the Huskers three top-15 WNBA picks and six All-America awards claimed by the Huskers from 2010 to 2014.
Like the 2010 team, the 2014 Huskers featured All-Big Ten players from top-to-bottom in their starting five. Rachel Theriot earned honorable-mention All-America accolades after being named the Big Ten Tournament MVP and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. Emily Cady and Tear'a Laudermill added second-team All-Big Ten awards, while Hailie Sample claimed a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team.
Although the Huskers lost Hooper to graduation and Theriot to injury 21 games into the 2014-15 campaign, Nebraska's senior class of Cady, Laudermill, Sample and Brandi Jeffery continued the Huskers' NCAA Tournament tradition. The four seniors became the most successful class in history by becoming the first group of Huskers to advance to four consecutive NCAA tournaments. They also became the first class to produce four straight 20-win seasons on their way to a four-year program record 96 wins.
In 2015-16, Yori's 14 seasons at Nebraska came to an end with an 18-13 record that included a trip to the Postseason WNIT. She finished as the winningest coach in Nebraska women's basketball history with 280 victories, averaging 20 wins per season.
Yori had come to Nebraska on June 24, 2002. She took over following back-to-back losing seasons under Coach Paul Sanderford, and struggled to an 8-20 mark with only a handful of scholarship players in 2002-03. In her second season, Nebraska improved to 18-12 overall and made its first of seven straight postseason tournament appearances.
The Huskers added a postseason trip in 2004-05, despite featuring four first-time starters. Sophomore Kiera Hardy earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, while Jelena Spiric claimed Big 12 Newcomer-of-the-Year accolades. NU was also back in the top 25 in the national attendance rankings, averaging more than 4,000 fans per game.
The Huskers also produced the biggest win in school history with a 103-99 triple overtime victory over eventual national champion Baylor at Devaney on Jan. 12.
Nebraska made a third straight Postseason WNIT trip in 2005-06, again featuring Hardy as a first-team All-Big 12 guard, while adding Big 12 All-Freshman selection Kelsey Griffin at forward.
Hardy and Griffin helped the Huskers to a 19-13 mark in 2005-06, but still came up a win or two short of their goal of getting Nebraska back to the Big Dance.
That mission was accomplished in 2007, as Hardy earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for the third straight season while shattering NU's career three-point record. Griffin joined Hardy with first-team All-Big 12 accolades, and the Huskers finished with a 22-10 overall record and a trip to the 2007 NCAA Tournament in Raleigh, N.C.
The Huskers fell in the first round to Temple, but it set up a repeat trip to the Big Dance in 2008. This time around, the 21-12 Huskers, again led by first-team All-Big 12 forward Griffin, knocked off Xavier in the first round.
After picking up just the third NCAA Tournament win in school history, the Huskers battled top-seeded Maryland down to the wire on the Terps' homecourt.
Griffin was the only returning starter on the 2008 team, as she was joined by senior Danielle Page, sophomore Yvonne Turner, junior college transfer Tay Hester and freshman Dominique Kelley in the Husker starting five.
The Huskers entered 2008-09 with high hopes, but those aspirations were tempered by a preseason foot injury to Griffin. Her injury required a pair of surgeries and she was forced to redshirt. Nebraska's inside depth was further challenged by a season-ending knee injury to Nikki Bober near the end of non-conference play. Starting forward Cory Montgomery played the entire season, but battled multiple injuries that limited her practice time early in the year. Turner also played through a shoulder injury, while Kaitlyn Burke, a part-time starter at shooting guard, struggled with a broken finger on her shooting hand.
Despite starting conference play 1-8, the Huskers refused to surrender and closed the Big 12 campaign as one of the league's hottest teams. NU finished the regular season with a 15-14 mark and a 6-10 Big 12 record to secure a seventh straight postseason trip.
Griffin, Turner, Montgomery and Kelley all returned to the starting lineup in 2009-10, and added Moore, the 2009 Washington High School Player of the Year at the point guard spot. The starting five, along with experienced senior reserves Kala Kuhlmann and Nicole Neals, and juniors Catheryn Redmon and Jessica Periago gave the Huskers the talent and depth to contend on the national level.
After injuries and graduation left the Huskers short-handed in 2010-11, a young Nebraska squad began a new building process in 2011-12. In the Huskers' first-ever Big Ten Conference season, a roster that featured six freshmen among just 10 active players rolled to the fourth-highest victory total in school history with a 24-9 record. After posting a 10-6 Big Ten regular-season mark, the Huskers stormed to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game before falling in two overtimes to Purdue.
The young Huskers advanced to the school's 10th NCAA Tournament after posting nine wins over 2012 NCAA Tournament teams. Not only did the Huskers have to overcome their own inexperience, all five starters overcame injuries to start every game during the season.
Hooper became the first sophomore in school history to reach 1,000 career points, while becoming the first NU sophomore to produce 600 points and 300 rebounds in a season. Nebraska's first-ever first-team All-Big Ten selection, Hooper also claimed honorable-mention All-America honors from the AP and the WBCA.
A candidate for the Wade and Naismith National Player-of-the-Year awards, Hooper was joined on the Naismith watch list by Moore. The 5-9 junior was also one of eight finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard. A second-team All-Big Ten pick, Moore joined Hooper on the Big Ten All-Tournament Team and in Nebraska's 1,000-point club.
Cady earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team after producing one of the best rookie seasons in school history. The 6-2 forward from Seward, Neb., joined Sample in becoming the first freshmen in school history to start every game together during their rookie seasons.
The duo went on to join Hooper in the starting five for 100 consecutive games in Nebraska's first three seasons of Big Ten play.
That trio, along with Nebraska's career assist leader and 2013 honorable-mention All-American Moore, fueled the Huskers to their second NCAA Sweet 16. NU's four returning starters were joined by another Big Ten All-Freshman selection, Rachel Theriot, in powering the Huskers to a 25-9 record and a 12-4 Big Ten mark.
The Huskers played for a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in the final home game at the Devaney Center. Although they came up short, the Huskers went on to defeat Chattanooga, 73-59 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at College Station, Texas. Two nights later, the sixth-seeded Huskers pulled one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, knocking off SEC Tournament champion and No. 9 ranked Texas A&M, 74-63, on the Aggies' homecourt at Reed Arena.
Moore closed her amazing career with her fifth double-double, producing 20 points and 10 assists. Sample made a triumphant return to her home state with 10 points and 11 rebounds to add her first career double-double.
Moore, who led NU to three NCAA tournaments including a pair of Sweet 16 bids, started more games (132) and played more minutes (4,360) than any player in school history. She also set the school record with 699 career assists, while adding 1,673 points.
Hooper was the lone senior on NU's 2013-14 squad, but she was joined by juniors Cady, Sample and Laudermill, and sophomore honorable-mention All-America point guard Theriot in the starting five.
The 2014 Huskers finished with a 26-7 overall record for the second-best winning percentage in school history, while adding a 12-4 Big Ten mark. NU played for a share of the Big Ten regular-season title again on the final day of the season, but came up short at Purdue.
After having a nine-game conference winning streak snapped in West Lafayette, the Huskers rallied for three straight convincing wins over Minnesota, No. 19 Michigan State and No. 23 Iowa at the Big Ten Tournament.
After earning their first-ever NCAA Tournament automatic bid, the Huskers claimed a No. 4 seed and defeated Fresno State, 74-55, at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. NU moved one game away from a chance to compete as a host in the NCAA Sweet 16 in its new Pinnacle Bank Arena, but came up short in an 80-74 loss to BYU.
The Cougars joined 2014 NCAA champion Connecticut, Texas A&M and DePaul for the NCAA Lincoln Regional in 2014 - the first NCAA Tournament basketball games in Lincoln since 1993.
Nearly 17,000 fans watched the three games in Lincoln, leading UConn Coach Geno Auriemma to acknowledge and praise the rise of women's basketball at Nebraska.
"Everybody's heard about the crowds here, the facilities here. Everything that's going on here. Every day's been great. The people are phenomenal. The building is spectacular. This is really, really, really nice. There's no doubt in my mind there will be another regional here, no question. Most places are fans of their team, not necessarily fans of the game. Here I think they take tremendous pride in their team, their school and the community, and they showed it."
The move into the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln brought even more excitement to Husker basketball. The $179 million arena held a school-record-tying 16 home wins in 2013-14, along with the 11th-highest average home attendance (6,161) in NCAA women's basketball. Nebraska's total attendance of more than 110,000 ranked eighth nationally and was the second-best total in school history, trailing only the 2010 season.
The Big Red attracted more than 6,000 fans per game to Pinnacle Bank Arena again in 2014-15, and ranked among the top 10 nationally in total attendance in each of the Huskers' first three seasons in the new building.
The current atmosphere is a far cry from its humble beginnings on the UNL campus. In March of 1898, a university women's team played a game against an outside opponent for the first time. The opposition was provided by a team from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The contest was played at the Nebraska armory, Grant Memorial Hall.
Among the matters to be resolved before the game was whether men's rules or those of Smith College should apply. In 1894, only three years after Dr. James Naismith established the rules for basketball, Senda Berenson, director of physical education at Smith College in Massachusetts, modified Naismith's game for women.
In contrast to the Nebraska team, the captain of which was graduate student Louise Pound, the team from Council Bluffs had been playing by the more physical men's rules. A compromise was reached. The first half would by played by men's rules, the second by Smith College rules. The teams played six on a side: two centers, two guards and two forwards. Pound played center.
Another issue was whether men should be allowed to attend. Administrators decided that any "gentleman'' accompanied by a "lady'' would be admitted, but single men might be prohibited lest the game attract the wrong kind of audience. The unflattering bloomers women wore in gym classes were regarded as inappropriate dress for mixed company, regardless of the circumstances. As a result, intramural track and field competition involving women was held indoors until 1904.
Early basketball games involving the university women were well-attended, and there was "always a goodly surplus in the treasury,'' according to the Nebraska State Journal. The gymnasium was filled well in advance of the game's start.
The Council Bluffs team, made up of girls who were "slighter of build and younger,'' proved to be no match for Pound and her university teammates. Pound, who also was the first all-university tennis champion, accounted for three field goals and five free throws in a 15-7 win.
The play of Nebraska's Harriet Cooke and Marie Beach drew mention in newspaper accounts. Cooke, like Pound, played center and accounted for Nebraska's other points. Beach was a guard, along with Marie Kennedy.
The Council Bluffs forwards were much shorter and had difficulty passing the ball over Beach and Kennedy to their centers, who were responsible for scoring goals. Bertha du Teil and Helen Welch were Nebraska's forwards. Rose Long was a substitute.
Basketball was introduced in the university's physical education classes for sophomore women in 1896. As was the case with male students, class teams competed against each other. The first all-university women's team was organized in 1896, according to the Nebraska State Journal. It included the best players regardless of their class, among them Welch, the only player from that first team who participated in the contest against the Council Bluffs team in March of 1898. Welch and her five teammates were "trained'' by Anne Louise Barr and played other inter-class teams.
The first women's game played before an audience was part of NU's sixth annual gymnasium exhibition in the spring of 1897, according to Phyllis Kay Wilke's "Physical Education for Women at Nebraska University, 1879-1923,'' published in the spring 1975 issue of Nebraska History.
Pound was the driving force in women's basketball at the university, organizing as well as playing on the earliest teams. She was a member of the team in the 1898-99 school year. It didn't play any opponents from outside of the university and very few intramural opponents, for that matter, because a large pipe organ donated by an alumni group was stored in the gym.
In April of 1901, the university sponsored a women's state tournament under Pound's direction at Grant Hall. Nebraska was represented by a first and second team in a field that included teams from the Omaha YWCA, Lincoln High and Wahoo High. The university's first team, led by captain Eleanore Miller, won the two-day competition.
In November of 1901, Nebraska played a team from the University of Missouri at Grant Hall, "the first intercollegiate match for girls ever played in the west,'' according to the Nebraska State Journal. Missouri was no match for its experienced opponent. Miller, who was still on the varsity team, had been succeeded as captain by Hannah Pillsbury. Nebraska won 31-4. The varsity team had yet to lose in its brief history.
Nebraska's varsity team didn't play against outside competition again until 1903, when it defeated the Omaha YWCA in Omaha 18-9 and a team from the Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kan., 42-8. The University second team also played that day, defeating Baker University, 22-1.
Efforts were being made to encourage intercollegiate competition for women, according to the Nebraska student yearbook for 1902, The Sombrero. The next university yearbook, published two years later, noted that women's basketball was experiencing dramatic growth.
In 1904, Nebraska suffered its first defeat, losing to the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis after opening an abbreviated schedule by shutting out the Lincoln YWCA 16-0. NU avenged the loss two weeks later in Lincoln.
Nebraska was 3-0 in 1905, against the Haskell Indian School, Missouri and the Omaha YWCA, the last two games on the road. The season was short but successful, the student yearbook noted: "Owing to an inability to schedule games with desirable teams, only three games were played.'' In 1907, no women's varsity team was picked.
In March of 1908, Nebraska played games against Minnesota, home-and-home, two weeks apart. Nebraska lost them both, 9-3 and 28-22, after a five-minute overtime. Earlier, NU had defeated a team from Nebraska Wesleyan to finish its final season with a 1-2 record.
Despite their remarkable success, the university women were allowed to play basketball only in physical education classes after April 24, 1908. In response to the concerns of faculty members, who considered such activity inappropriate, the Board of Regents abolished intercollegiate athletics for women. More than 60 years passed before the University sponsored women's teams.
Women's club teams were formed beginning in 1970. In 1974-75, such a team coached by Jan Callahan won nine of 16 games. Only three of the games were against opponents from outside the state. The team played on the small court in Mabel Lee Hall, which was named for the women's physical education director from 1924 to 1952. A typical audience might be 30, mostly friends and relatives of the players.
The modern era of women's basketball at Nebraska more accurately dates from 1975, with the arrival of Aleen Swofford as women's athletic director and the offering of scholarships. The total budget for women's athletics was less than $40,000.
George Nicodemus, an Iowa native who had directed John F. Kennedy College in Wahoo, Neb., to a pair of AAU women's national titles, succeeded Callahan as volunteer coach of NU's fledgling program in 1975. With seven scholarships and Jan Crouch, his tallest starter at 5-foot-11, Nicodemus produced a 22-9 record in his first season. The Huskers finished third in the Big Eight Tournament in Manhattan, Kan., in February of 1976. They won the state collegiate tournament held at Midland College in Fremont, Neb.; lost in the second round of an Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) regional tournament in Fargo, N.D.; and finished by winning two consolation games at the National Women's Invitational Tournament at Amarillo, Texas.
"We are only a couple of tall girls away from winning a national championship,'' Nicodemus said after his first year. Nicodemus, whose duties also included the softball program, became a paid coach his second season at Nebraska, receiving an annual salary of $12,000. The Huskers finished 20-14 and took second to Kansas State at the league tournament in Boulder, Colo. Nebraska's season ended with a 74-54 loss at Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the state tournament.
The UNO game was Nicodemus' last as NU's coach. Dr. June Davis, who had served for two years as women's sports information director at the university, succeeded Swofford as women's athletic director and set about replacing Nicodemus. He passed away on Sept. 3, 2016, at the age of 92.
Davis hired Marcia Walker, who had spent two years at Dakota Wesleyan. Walker announced she would resign with about a third of a 12-14 season remaining. The team would have four more coaches in the next nine years, including Lorrie Gallagher, Colleen Matsuhara, Kelly Hill and Angela Beck, who finally brought stability to the program in 1986.
Gallagher followed Walker and coached two 20-win seasons, both of which earned the Huskers AIAW regional tournament berths. The first of Matsuhara's three teams advanced to an AIAW regional, making it three in a row. NU would have only one winning season in the next five.
The Huskers lost nearly twice as often as they won during the next two years, which preceded the promotion of Dr. Barbara Hibner to women's athletic director and Beck's arrival from Bradley.
Among the dominant Nebraska players of the late 1970s and early 1980s were 1,000-point career-scorers Jan Crouch, Diane DelVigna, Janet Smith, Kathy Hagerstrom, Cathy Owen, Debra Powell, Stacy Imming and Angie Miller. Powell finished her four-year career in 1984-85 with 1,843 points.
Powell was the first Husker to earn first-team All-Big Eight honors, earning the award as a junior. DelVigna was the most prolific of the eight scorers, averaging 19.1 points per game during her two seasons at NU. Smith, who played on the three consecutive AIAW regional qualifiers coached by Gallagher and Matsuhara, pulled down a school-record 1,280 rebounds and scored 1,284 points.
The 29-year-old Beck, a native of Decatur, Ill., had been an All-American at Millikan, an NCAA Division III school in her hometown. Beck inherited two players who helped the Huskers make history by capturing their first Big Eight regular-season title, the best record in school history and the first NCAA Tournament bid in 1988.
The two players, both Nebraskans, were Maurtice Ivy and Amy Stephens. The 5-foot-9 Ivy joined the Huskers in 1984, after a remarkable career at Omaha Central. She was a three-time Super-State basketball player and was chosen by the Lincoln Journal Star as the state's outstanding female high school athlete for 1984. Stephens arrived a year later from Alliance, Neb., where she enjoyed a high school career as much publicized as that of Ivy. Both were prolific scorers.
Ivy was the first player to score 2,000 career points at Nebraska. She reached that total, appropriately enough, at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on "Maurtice Ivy Night'' in February of 1988. Mayor Bernie Simon had declared Feb. 17, "Maurtice Ivy Day'' in Omaha. A proclamation to that effect was read before the game against Kansas. Ivy received a plaque from Omaha's Lewis and Clark Junior High, and her high school coach announced that her No. 22 jersey was being retired by Omaha Central.
Proving her sense of the dramatic was as keen as her shooting eye, Ivy hit a free throw with 23 seconds left for point No. 2,001. That point also secured what would be a 76-72 victory. Ivy hit three more free throws before game's end. The win was crucial to Nebraska winning the conference crown and earning an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The season and Ivy's Nebraska career ended at 22-7 with a 100-82 loss at USC in the first round of the regional at Los Angeles. Ivy was chosen as the 1988 Big Eight Player of the Year. Beck was the conference coach of the year, and Kim Harris, a transfer from Bradley, earned Big Eight Newcomer-of-the-Year honors.
Ivy, whose career point total reached 2,131, was named to the Big Eight's all-decade women's basketball team for the 1980s. Stephens, who finished just 24 points shy of 2,000, received honorable mention on the all-decade team.
Karen Jennings was recruited from Persia, Iowa, in 1989, after playing six-on-six, half-court basketball at Tri-Center High School in Neola, Iowa, where she averaged an astonishing 59 points per game as a senior. Jennings adapted quickly to five-on-five basketball, leading the Huskers to back-to-back 20-win seasons as a junior and senior. She was voted the Big Eight Player of the Year both seasons, and in 1992-93, after Nebraska earned an NCAA regional bid, was chosen a first-team WBCA All-American.
Nebraska finished second in the Big Eight, then lost to Kansas 64-60 in the conference championship game at Salina, Kan., to enter NCAA play with a 22-7 record. The Huskers defeated San Diego in Lincoln, 81-58, before losing to USC, 78-60, in Los Angeles.
During a ceremony at halftime of a victory against Iowa State at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in January of 1995, Karen Jennings' No. 51 jersey was retired. Jennings was the first woman basketball player in the history of the University of Nebraska to be so honored.
Given Jennings' accomplishments in four seasons as a Husker, the honor was a slam dunk. She was the first woman in school history to be chosen as a first-team basketball All-American. She was awarded the Margaret Wade Trophy after her senior season. Wade was the first women's coach to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The trophy named in her honor is presented annually by the WBCA to the women's collegiate player voted to be the nation's best.
Jennings twice was honored as the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year. She finished as Nebraska's career scoring leader and the second-leading scorer in conference history. She was first-team all-conference three times, and she led the Huskers to the NCAA Tournament in 1993.
Jennings distinguished herself in the classroom as well. She was a three-time Academic All-American. She earned Big Eight and NCAA post-graduate scholarships, and her academic success, combined with her athletic accomplishments, earned her recognition as the Big Eight Female Athlete of the Year in 1993.
Jennings continued to thrive following her tremendous athletic and academic accomplishments at Nebraska. After a successful career as a physical therapist, she changed gears and thrived in the real estate business in Omaha. Along the way, she contributed thousands of hours of community service and began to raise a family. For her success as a collegiate student-athlete and her accomplishments after her career, Jennings was honored with induction into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in the summer of 2008.
Described as "the best of the best of the best" by longtime Academic All-America Hall of Fame spokesman and award-winning broadcaster Dick Enberg, fewer than 300 student-athletes all-time, across all-sports have been honored with Hall of Fame induction.
She also was selected to the inaugural class of the University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.
Beck, who added a freshman walk-on from Spearfish, S.D., named Amy Gusso to her 1994-95 roster, coached Nebraska to the 1996 NCAA Tournament before leaving for the fledgling (and now defunct) American Basketball League after the 1996-97 season. Beck was replaced by Paul Sanderford, who had taken Western Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament 12 times in 15 years as a coach. His Hilltoppers advanced to the semifinals three times and lost in the 1992 title game.
The 1997-98 squad led by Anna DeForge included fellow senior Gusso and tied then-school records for wins (23) and conference victories (11) and advanced to an NCAA sub-regional at Norfolk, Va., where it defeated New Mexico before bowing out against perennial power Old Dominion.
In 1998-99, the Nicole Kubik-led Huskers finished 21-12 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, losing to Kentucky 98-92. In 1999-2000, the Huskers achieved another school first by advancing to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament, while Kubik capped her career by finishing as the school's No. 7 all-time scorer while ranking in the top 25 in NCAA Division I history with 418 career steals.
Kubik joined fellow seniors Brooke Schwartz and Charlie Rogers in becoming the first Nebraska natives from the same recruiting class to all score 1,000 points. Keeping the best of Nebraska's players at home has continued.
Yvonne Turner, the 2006 Nebraska High School Player of the Year, finished her NU career with 1,101 points, while becoming just the sixth guard in Husker history with more than 1,000 points, 200 assists and 200 steals. Dominique Kelley, the 2007 Nebraska High School Player of the Year, joined Turner in the 1,000-point club one year later.
Jordan Hooper was the 2008 and 2010 Nebraska High School Player of the Year, and finished her Husker career No. 2 in points (2,357) and rebounds (1,110). Emily Cady became the 13th native Nebraskan in NU's 1,000-point club and closed her outstanding four-year career with 1,461 points, 1,114 rebounds and 305 assists as one of the most versatile players in school history.
The Huskers began a new chapter in their women's basketball history with the return of Coach Amy (Gusso) Williams in 2016-17. A hard-working former Husker who earned back-to-back Summit League Coach-of-the-Year honors at South Dakota (2015, 2016), Williams began a substantial rebuilding project in 2016-17.
In her second season at Nebraska, Williams captured Big Ten Coach-of-the-Year honors by leading the nation's top turnaround while guiding the Huskers to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
Nebraska was postseason eligible again in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended seasons around the world. NU rebuilt again to earn a trip to the 2021 WNIT, before advancing to their 15th NCAA Tournament in school history with their 18th 20-win season in 2021-22.
Four Huskers earned All-Big Ten honors in 2021-22, led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Alexis Markowski. The two-time Nebraska High School Player of the Year joined fellow newcomer Jaz Shelley in earning second-team All-Big Ten honors, while captains Sam Haiby and Isabelle Bourne claimed honorable-mention accolades. Another native Nebraskan, Allison Weidner emerged into the starting five as a freshman in 2021-22.
The same four Huskers earned All-Big Ten honors again in 2022-23, led by Shelley, who claimed first-team honors. Markowski added second-team accolades while Bourne and Haiby pitched in honorable-mention recognition. Haiby's season was reduced by injuries at the start and end of the year, while Weidner suffered a season-ending injury in the 13th game - a triple-overtime win over then-unbeaten and No. 20 Kansas. The Huskers finished 18-15 and just missed another NCAA Tournament bid before advancing to the WNIT Super 16.
As the popularity of women's basketball at Nebraska continues to grow, the Huskers are confident that the best in the growing tradition of Big Red basketball is yet to come.