It was the kind of compliment Nebraska fans might want to cut out or highlight. Especially coming from a Texas A&M coach.
Aggies women’s basketball coach Gary Blair was asked about the “Big 12 reunion” in Monday night’s second-round NCAA tournament game between former league members NU and A&M, and Blair didn’t hesitate to call the Huskers’ move to the Big Ten a success.
“They said no to Texas before we did,” Blair said of Nebraska, which left for the Big Ten one year before the Aggies bolted for the SEC. “Give them a lot of credit.”
Later asked to expound on his comment about Texas, which remains in the Big 12 with its Longhorn Network deal with ESPN, Blair demurred.
“That’s just me popping off again,” he said.
Husker coach Connie Yori had no bad things to say about the Big 12, but the move to the Big Ten, she said, has been advantageous for her program.
“It’s been a great transition for us,” Yori said. “Across the board, athletically. The Big Ten is a great fit for us geographically. We’re playing against northern schools. We don’t have to compete against weather in our recruiting process. I think we have all found that in our athletic department to be a positive.”
Blair declined to say whether the SEC or the Big 12 was a better league.
“Sometimes change in our life — it happens, OK?” Blair said. “My dad finally gave up driving a Ford and went to a Pontiac, couldn’t believe it ... the SEC is great. The Big 12 is great, too. Why do I have to have a favorite? Do you want Sandra Bullock or do you want Julia Roberts? I want ‘em both.”
Praise for, by coaches
Blair had high praise for Yori throughout his press conference, calling her one of women’s college basketball’s “best-kept secrets.” More than that, though, Blair likes Yori’s “dry sense of humor” and calm on the court. Blair studied her reaction during NU’s first-round NCAA tournament win against Chattanooga and saw that Yori’s demeanor didn’t change much even when the Huskers were behind.
“That’s where you determine who can coach — and who’s in the panic mode,” Blair said.
Yori returned the praise.
“He knows how to recruit, he knows what style he wants to play, he’s been pretty consistent in doing that,” she said. “He’s got good players and does a really good job of coaching.”
Compliments for Cady
Another Husker who Blair singled out for credit: Sophomore forward Emily Cady, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds Saturday night. Blair said Cady is a good complement to Nebraska’s top scorers, Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore.
“She plays hard every possession,” Blair said. “Cady is just one of those kids. The other two are getting all the headlines, but she’s doing all the dirty work. If there’s somebody I want to get in foul trouble, I’d rather it be Cady, because you never know what she’s going to do. She’s going to help you in so many different ways ... Cady, she’s solid.”
Said Yori: “ Emily is just highly underrated ... she does all the little things.”
A&M has its versatile trio of forwards in Kristi Bellock, Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams. Bellock, a 6-foot-1 senior, is particularly well-rounded like Cady; she averages 10.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and one block per game. Her ability to hit a mid-range baseline jumper helps keep Aggies center Kelsey Bone open in the paint.
“If Kristi doesn’t knock down that shot with the consistency that she does, a lot of teams have to pay way more attention to me,” Bone said. “Her defender is, most of the time, the one who double-teams me. If she’s not capable or consistently knocking down that shot, it makes my life a little bit more difficult.”
— Sam McKewon