If the schedule makers at the University of Connecticut had their way, this month's women's basketball games against Kansas State and Nebraska would have been played on one trip to the midwest. It takes less than three hours to drive from Manhattan, Kansas, to Lincoln, Nebraska.
It didn't work out. So nine days after taking a flight home from Kansas State, the Huskies were back on a plane Tuesday that carried them to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Napheesa Collier had no complaints.
While about 20 of her family and friends made the five-hour drive on Route 70-West from their St. Peters, Missouri, home to Kansas State on Dec. 11, another dozen will take a six-plus hour drive on 70-West to 29-North in Kansas City to the University of Nebraska on Wednesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln at 9 p.m. ET.
"I'm super-excited," Collier said. "I don't get to see my extended family that often so I'm looking forward to it."
And after No. 1 UConn plays Nebraska, Collier and her teammates will head to their respective homes for the Christmas holiday.
Katie Lou Samuelson didn't mind getting on the plane to Lincoln, either. The trip got her more than halfway home to her Huntington Beach, California, residence. She'll complete the journey on Thursday.
"It's going to be fun," Samuelson said. "But we have to be ready to go (Wednesday night)."
Nothing like having an 85-game winning streak snapped to ruin Christmas.
The Huskies (10-0) have a quick turnaround following their 82-63 win No. 12 Ohio State on Monday. Their five starters played anywhere from 34 to 39 minutes.
Collier (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Samuelson (26 points) combined for 53 points against the Buckeyes, and scored 25 of the Huskies' 30 third-quarter points that allowed them to turn a six-point halftime edge to an insurmountable 22-point one going to the final 10 minutes. But those last 10 minutes were a struggle as UConn made just two baskets, though it maintained its lead by going 8-for-10 at the foul line.
"In the fourth quarter today and at Kansas State, we just didn't have anything left," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "We're trying to take the air out of it a little bit and give ourselves a little bit of a breather and not get caught up in a fast pace. We're just trying to milk the clock a little bit. What ends up happening is you get to the free throw line a lot. If you're patient and you don't take quick shots, you have a chance to get to the free-throw line."
The Huskies may get some help in the depth department Wednesday. Senior guard Saniya Chong, who has missed the last two games with concussion-like symptoms after taking a shot to the face against Notre Dame on Dec. 7, made the trip to Nebraska on Tuesday though it probably will be near a game-time decision to whether she plays.
Wednesday night's game is UConn's first in Nebraska against the Cornhuskers but not the Huskies' first time in Pinnacle Bank Arena. UConn advanced to the 2014 Final Four through Lincoln with regional wins against BYU and Texas A&M. After the win over the Aggies, Auriemma addressed the crowd and assured the fans that he would bring the Huskies back to Nebraska.
And here they are.
"We feel that the fans at Nebraska and the fans in Pinnacle Bank Arena are the absolute best in the country," Nebraska first-year coach Amy Williams said at a press conference Tuesday. "We know they're excited and appreciate great basketball and we know it will be a phenomenal crowd. We can count on the best fans in the country to support us."
UConn defeated Nebraska 88-46 a year ago. Williams actually played for the Cornhuskers in the only other meeting with the Huskies. Williams (nee Gusso) played two minutes off the bench and did not score as UConn picked up a 71-61 win in the 1997 Preseason WNIT championship game at Gampel Pavilion.
Nebraska (4-7) has lost six of its last seven games, including an 80-64 decision at Creighton on Sunday, and knows it faces a tall order.
"Coaches talk to you about doing the little things," said Nebraska's Jessica Shepard, the team's leading scorer and rebounder who was also Collier's roommate while playing together with the 2014 United States U-18 national team. "You watch them on film and they do all those things on every single possession and they don't take possessions off. That's what make it hard to play against them."
Williams had even more praise for the Huskies.
"The thing that really separates them is they're the best passing team I've seen," she said. "They really share the ball and they make the right read and the right pass every time.
"And the other thing that separates them is they make you pay every time you make a mistake. It doesn't matter if you're on defense or if you make a turnover, it's going to lead to points."
When UConn visited Kansas State, a sellout crowd of 12,528 showed up.
Nebraska is averaging 4,463 for its seven home games so far, but maybe double that (or more) will come watch Wednesday night.
"People love the Huskers out there, and I think there is going to be a great crowd," Auriemma said. "It's same as playing Kansas State. When we go on the road to places we haven't played during the regular season, we expect that. I hope it's a great crowd and a great atmosphere."