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By Randy York
Here’s a quick one: How many conference championships has the Nebraska women’s basketball team won? Three? Two? One? None? Actually, the answer is two, and the Huskers are using their first one – a Big Eight championship in 1988 – to take Big Red fans Back to the Future Thursday when the Huskers host Michigan in a 7 p.m. tipoff. To celebrate that ground-breaking ’88 conference title, it will be ’80s Night at the Devaney Center – the first of four consecutive home-game promotions designed to boost attendance as the Huskers shoot for the capstone in their own version of a Triple Crown – 1) a Big Eight championship in ’88; 2) a Big 12 title in 2010; and 3) a Big Ten championship in 2012.
Fans with tickets to Wednesday night’s Nebraska-Michigan men’s game can use those same tickets for Thursday’s night’s Husker-Wolverine women’s game. So keep those tickets and head back to the Devaney on back-to-back nights. Or, at the very least, make sure your tickets end up in the hands of Husker fans supporting NU’s historic pursuit of a Big Ten championship in their first year in the league. It’s a tight race, and Nebraska’s young team is in the thick of it. The Huskers and Ohio State are tied for second place with 8-2 records, a half game behind league leader Purdue, which is 9-2 after losing that epic three-overtime thriller to Nebraska last week in West Lafayette, Ind.
Surely, Michael Jackson’s Thriller – the blockbuster 1982 hit that remains the best selling album of all-time – will be blaring at the Devaney for this one. I don’t know exactly what HuskerVision’s creative minds have up their sleeves to take us back to the future, but there are all kinds of possibilities. With 8-3 Penn State, 6-4 Michigan State, 6-5 Michigan and 6-5 Iowa trailing the three conference leaders, Nebraska isn’t exactly Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi’s No. 1 hit in 1986. We all know this stretch run is a Journey, so why wouldn’t we use one of their songs that became Nebraska’s theme at Purdue: Don’t Stop Believing? Maybe we should warn you this stuff isn’t going to stop until Sunday, Feb. 26 – the Huskers’ last regular-season game at home against Ohio State … a good time to celebrate a Big Ten title on Senior Day.
In some measure, that celebration begins this week, and I can only imagine how Kaitlyn Burke might fit in. One of the Huskers’ two seniors (Harleen Sidhu is the other), Burke is the only player on the team born in the 1980s. So HuskerVision can definitely have some fun with her on ’80s Night. She was, after all, a childhood actress who starred in such Questar films as “Bear with Me” and “Ms. Bear,” where she interacts with a grizzly bear throughout both films. No wonder Burke was such a bear when her team needed her most at Purdue, and she scored a season-high 14 points. The grizzly staring at the Huskers now is every team left on their regular-season schedule, beginning with Michigan, followed by Minnesota in Minneapolis next Monday, then Feb. 16 and Feb.19 home games against Northwestern and Wisconsin, a road game at Michigan State on Feb. 23 and what everyone hopes to be a championship Sunday at home against Ohio State, which thumped the Huskers, 82-68, in Columbus.
By then, if that game indeed decides the Big Ten race, we might want to continue the ‘80s theme on Senior Day. Forget the leggings, mullets and wristbands. Win the title and go back to the future. Bring your leather jacket and a glove because if the Huskers win, every player on the team will want to Moonwalk. And don’t be surprised if Yori wants to dance that day before heading to the Big Dance, the NCAA Tournament. Beat Ohio State and prepare for Terms of Endearment from every Husker fan out there. Remember that 1984 Best Picture Oscar winner? You know why it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards … because it featured scenes from all over Nebraska’s campus.
Let’s finish this column with more coincidental 80s-related fun. To get Back to the Future, Nebraska has everything it needs, led by The A-Team with Burke and Lindsey Moore at guards and Jordan Hooper, Emily Cady and Hailie Sample at forwards. The Top Gun, of course, has to be Hooper. But here are The Facts of Life: Everything runs through Moore. After so many Growing Pains last year, this young team deserves all the Cheers you can give them. The Huskers are proof that Diff’rent Strokes are needed game in and game out. Who will ever forget when the Huskers were Saved by the Bell at Purdue because Cady, one of two freshman starters, drained a clutch 3-pointer? If this team keeps clicking like it is, the Huskers will deserve the ultimate sign of respect – a Full House. The only thing standing between this team and that possibility are these last six conference games.
Guess your Nebraska Cornhuskers are going to have to become the 2012 version of a 1980 creation – Pac-Man, so they can gobble up anyone who dares to get in their way. Last, but certainly not least, we all know Who’s the Boss here. Connie Yori, of course, and if the 2010 National Coach of the Year surprises everyone and wins a Big Ten championship with a team loaded with youth, she just might be on the verge of a conference Dynasty. But let’s not let the cart get ahead of the horse and remember what a trip this has already been for a team projected to finish no higher than the middle of the pack. Embracing an ’80s song – Eye of the Tiger – the 2011-12 Huskers have become the Rocky Balboa of the nation’s oldest intercollegiate athletic conference. So here’s the truth. Even if the Huskers somehow fall short of the Big Ten title this season, I’d hate to have to deal with them next season … and beyond.
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