When Nebraska forward Kelsey Griffin arrived in Lincoln from Eagle River, Alaska, 4½ years ago, she heard a slew of North Pole jokes and was teased that she must have loved dogsledding home from school to visit her pet polar bear. "There were a lot of igloo questions too," she says, laughing. Now when people talk to her, they focus not on where she came from but on where she and her teammates are headed. After knocking off Kansas 67--60 and Missouri 82--78 on the road last week, the Huskers were 23--0, ranked third in the AP poll—the highest in school history—and projected to be a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. The 6'2" Griffin, who was so lightly recruited at Chugiak High that after her sophomore year she received just one D-I recruiting letter, from Denver, is now a biological sciences major and player of the year candidate. She leads the team with 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds a game. "I thought we'd be good, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams this season panning out the way it has," she says.
Griffin sat out last season with a foot injury, and the Huskers, a young team, went 15--16 in a senior-laden Big 12. This year, with Griffin and five other seniors, they are the league's most veteran and most balanced squad: Griffin, seniors Cory Montgomery and Yvonne Turner and junior guard Dominique Kelley all average more than 12 points and less than 28 minutes.
Feeding them all is freshman point guard Lindsey Moore, last year's Gatorade Washington State player of the year, out of Kentwood High in Covington. Moore averages 4.6 assists per game and her 2.0-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks third in the Big 12. In a win over No. 10 Oklahoma State she led the Huskers with eight rebounds. "To have a rebounding guard who takes care of the ball as a freshman, that's huge," says Griffin.
But nothing has been bigger than the return of the versatile Griffin, a former point guard who loves taking charges (she leads the team with 20) and ripping down rebounds. "You don't see 6'2" players handle the ball as well as Kelsey," says coach Connie Yori. "And she's a great defensive rebounder. On top of that she's a great low-block scorer, so most teams send double or triple teams. But we have enough weapons on the perimeter to burn teams that do that."
Opposing coaches have heaped praise on the Huskers. "I don't think I've seen a basketball team that's that good in my four years in the league," Texas Tech coach Kristy Curry said after her team was crushed by Nebraska 89--47 on Jan. 27, but Yori's favorite compliment came from a fan who said her team played "like a bunch of Larry Birds."
Whether or not the Huskers make it to the season's final game, as Bird did three decades ago, they're already legends in Lincoln.
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NATI HARNIK/AP (GRIFFIIN)
IN THE BOOKS Griffin ranks in the Huskers' alltime top 10 in points, rebounds and blocks.