Nebraska won’t enjoy the home court advantage on Friday as the Huskers take on Colorado in the Sweet 16. However, that doesn’t mean the Huskers won’t feel right at home in Lexington, Kentucky.
“I just think of all the places we could have been sent, we’re excited about being here because we had such a great tournament here two years ago,” Coach John Cook said. “A lot of familiarity, we know this gym, half of our team was in that regional two years ago. We’re excited and we’re really looking forward to the opportunity to continue to build on the season that we’ve had.”
The Huskers made a stop in Lexington on their way to the 2015 National Championship, taking down BYU and Washington before returning to Nebraska for the Final Four in Omaha.
Though most of the Huskers will know what to expect, that doesn’t mean Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum won’t provide its own challenges for the players.
“It’s just so big and white,” senior setter Kelly Hunter said. “My first serve, I tossed the ball up and kind of lost it just because it’s so high. We’re used to kind of playing in a bigger gym but it’s packed with people and they’re right on top of you, but here the walls are white so everything just kind of feels further away than it is. So I guess for serve and pass that could affect it a little bit.”
The Huskers will revive an old rivalry on Friday as former conference foe Colorado (24-9) will be waiting on the other side of the net. The Buffaloes swept James Madison in the first round and No. 12 seed Baylor in the second to book their trip to the Sweet 16.
“They are good at serving and passing,” Cook said. “They’re well-balanced. They’ve got two nice outsides that manage the game really well. They can set the middle. [Joslyn] Hayes has been there, I think she’s a senior, seems like she’s been there a long time. They’ve obviously played good competition [in the Pac-12].”
Hunter said she sees some similarities between the Buffaloes and Huskers.
“When they’re playing well they have a really fast offense and a really balanced attack and that’s always hard to play against,” Cook said. “That’s how we try to be. They don’t really ride one player and give just one player 60 attacks a night, so they have a really balanced attack. For our blocking defense, we have to be on block and read really well. Serve and pass, obviously, is going to try and take them out of that offense.”
Before the season, Cook said he wanted his young team to be good early, great in the Big Ten and unstoppable by the NCAA Tournament, and after dispatching Stony Brook and Washington State in straight sets last weekend and a good practice in Lexington on Thursday, the Huskers are feeling good.
“Coach was just telling us after practice that this is one of the best practices that we’ve had serve and pass-wise, energy wise, and we took it up another level today,” senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht said. “I think we got better today which is important and we’re still trying to get better as the season goes on. I think the team is really excited for [Friday] just to have another opportunity to play the game.”
First serve is set for 1 p.m. CT (or later if the match between No. 4 Kentucky and No. 13 BYU goes long) on ESPN3.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.