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UCLA, USC already intertwined in many of Nebraska's most historic moments

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Nebraska will have a pair of new conference mates two years from now. But USC and UCLA have already been around for some of the Huskers’ highest highs and lowest lows.

Pick a sport, and it’s likely Big Red has crossed paths with one Los Angles school or the other at some significant moment in the last 55 years. High-stakes football games, certainly — NU has been part of nine contests featuring ranked teams against the Trojans and Bruins.

In 1972, UCLA ended Nebraska’s 32-game unbeaten streak and squashed the prospect of three straight national titles. The Huskers thumped the Bruins in a top-three matchup in Lincoln in 1987 and again in 1994 en route to a championship.

USC and Nebraska have met just five times, though all carried significant weight. The tie in 1970 — an upset favoring NU that led to its first football crown. The time the No. 1 Trojans came to Lincoln in 2007 and rolled No. 14 Nebraska in the first warning sign of a lost season and looming coaching change. A Holiday Bowl shootout in 2014.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most meaningful — or just plain interesting — times Nebraska has crossed paths with the Hollywood brands across various sports.

Nebraska vs. USC, 1970

Joe Orduna (31) and Jeff Kinney (right) celebrate Orduna's third-quarter touchdown against USC on Sept. 19, 1970.

Football: A tie and (eventually) a title

A 21-21 outcome with USC in September 1970 put Nebraska on course for its first championship run that changed the program forever.

The No. 9 Huskers were two-touchdown underdogs in the LA Coliseum but overcame six turnovers and a missed 22-yard field goal late to equal the No. 3 Trojans with more than 73,000 looking on. NU forced four takeaways of its own and linebacker Jerry Murtaugh was among the defensive stars as the Blackshirts held tough in the final minutes.

The outcome preserved USC’s 23-game unbeaten streak but altered the national perception of NU for its effort against a team that had made three straight Rose Bowls. It even impressed comedian Bill Cosby enough to pop into the Husker locker room for a surprise visit.

“It was a great game,” Cosby said. “I’d like to have No. 20 (Johnny Rodgers) and No. 31 (Joe Orduna) come out and meet us in the alley.”

Football: No Nebraska three-peat

One of the more surprising upsets of a Husker team ever played out in September 1972 at the LA Coliseum.

Nebraska had won the last two national titles and brought the No. 1 ranking in the land out west. UCLA was coming off a 2-7-1 season under a new coach. But five NU turnovers — three fumbles, two interceptions — and half a dozen dropped passes spelled doom for an unbeaten streak that went back three years. A field goal with 22 seconds left made the difference in a 20-17 Bruins shocker.

“You don’t ever plan on losing,” Nebraska coach Bob Devaney said. “But it finally happened.”

Football: Back on top

Any lingering doubts that Nebraska was a bona fide championship contender in 1994 disappeared that September as the No. 2 Huskers ran over No. 13 UCLA 49-21.

Big Red flexed at home in front of an ABC national audience, leading 28-7 at halftime and rolling up 484 rushing yards as the Bruins tried and failed to stop the option attack. Seven different Huskers scored including receiver Brendan Holbein, who was grazed by a bullet a week earlier.

NU had won 14-13 the previous season but left no doubt this time. It claimed its third national title a few months later.

“We got our butts kicked,” UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook said. “I don’t know what you can get out of this game.”

Men’s basketball: Big Red beats John Wooden

A 45-year-old John Wooden and the preseason No. 4 Bruins — who eventually won the Pac-8 Conference title — were no match for Nebraska on a December Friday night in Lincoln in 1955. The Huskers won 71-65 in their biggest win that season under second-year coach Jerry Bush, the grandfather of Fred Hoiberg. NU got 22 points from center and Holmesville native Rex Ekwall along with what players later acknowledged were plenty of favorable officiating calls.

The game was easily the highlight of the season for a Nebraska team that would go 7-16. Little did they know Wooden would go on to be a 10-time national champion and one of the greatest college coaches of all time. Big Red has lost four straight to UCLA since then, most recently in 2016.

Softball: UCLA walks off in WCWS

Nebraska would have celebrated a softball championship in Omaha if not for UCLA and its 6-foot-3 starting pitcher.

The Bruins walked off the Huskers in the 1985 Women’s College World Series at Seymour Smith Field on a bases-loaded RBI single in the ninth inning. NU couldn’t cash in against hurler Debbie Doom, stranding 12 baserunners in front of a partisan crowd of 3,180.

The runner-up finish is Nebraska’s best ever, though the NCAA later vacated the appearance because of the use of ineligible players. The schools also met at the 1984 and 1987 event.

“UCLA is a true champion,” NU coach Wayne Daigle said afterward. “They showed it last night and they showed it today. Secondly, they are no better than we are. They just got the run first.”

Volleyball: Clash of dynasties

At the height of their powers, two programs put on a show for the ages with a Final Four berth on the line in December 2004.

Two-time defending champion USC ultimately prevailed in a five-set classic, upsetting top-ranked Nebraska in a match that laid the foundation for a Big Red title two years later. Freshman hitter Sarah Pavan set a school record in the rally-scoring era with 35 kills on a record 90 swings, starring on a court crowded with All-Americans.

Said USC coach Mick Haley: “The athleticism and the eliteness of the players out there was something special.”


Nebraska's Tara Mueller (19) hits from the back row in the second set against UCLA on Sept. 13, 2009, at the Devaney Sports Center. 

Volleyball: NU home win streak a casualty in Cook vs. Cook

An NCAA-record crowd of 13,870 packed the Devaney Sports Center in September 2009 in a coach-vs.-daughter thriller that snapped Nebraska’s 90-match home winning streak.

The No. 5 Huskers fell in five sets to No. 8 UCLA and freshman setter Lauren Cook, who had 48 assists in the win and was named MVP of the tournament weekend. NU coach John Cook welcomed his daughter in as a transfer the following offseason.

“I loved it — it was totally like, ‘Bring it on, let’s see what you’ve got,’” Lauren Cook said then. “He knows everything I can do. He taught me everything.”

Big Red also beat UCLA in the national semifinals in 1989 and 2006.

Men’s gymnastics: NU title run continues against Bruins

Nebraska and UCLA went 1-2 in both the 1982 and 1982 NCAA meets as the Huskers won five straight championships under new coach — and eventual NU legend — Francis Allen. The two programs featured multiple future U.S. Olympians including Jim Hartung and Scott Johnson for the Huskers, who went a combined 84-0 those two seasons.

The schools were rivals for a time — the Bruins later edged Nebraska for the 1987 crown. But while the Husker program has endured, UCLA cut the men’s sport after the 1993-94 season.

NU vs. UCLA baseball 18

Nebraska's Kurt Farmer (right) catches the ball at first base as UCLA's Cody Regis runs through the base during a March 6, 2011, game at Haymarket Park.

Baseball: Huskers win wild series with top-five UCLA

A pair of future major-league aces wasn’t enough to stop the Huskers from taking a series against the top-five Bruins at Haymarket Park in what was one of the program’s most memorable regular-season weekends ever in March 2011.

UCLA’s Gerritt Cole struck out eight batters in nine shutout innings Friday — taking a perfect game into the seventh — in a 1-0, 11-inning win. Trevor Bauer was nearly as good the next day with 17 punchouts in 10 frames. NU hitters fanned a school-record 21 times but still won in extras on a Bryan Peters RBI hit.

Nebraska walked off again Sunday on a Peters homer in a 5-4, 11-inning thriller. Said NU coach Mike Anderson: “That’s a great weekend, one you put in the memory books.”

Women’s basketball: A Sweet comeback

The best moment of Nebraska’s best season came against UCLA. The No. 1-seed Huskers beat the top-25 Bruins 83-70 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, rallying from down nine points early to move on to their first Sweet 16 in program history. Dominique Kelley scored a game-high 22 points and senior Kelsey Griffin added 18 with 14 rebounds in Minneapolis.

NU hit eight three-pointers to improve to 32-1.

“More than anything it was just letting the game come to us, not taking contested threes or rushed threes,” Kelley said. “Just shooting it with confidence.”


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