The Husker Hardwood game preview called for a big performance by the youngsters on this team. Much to my delight (and that of scores of others) that's exactly what happened on Saturday night against the Oklahoma Sooners. Although the seniors gave us their typical solid games, it was the passion from Richardson, toughness by Diaz, and perfect timing by Standhardinger that propelled the Cornhuskers to a lopsided 63-46 point win. (More after the jump)
Nothing cures the winter blues quite like beating a team from Norman. Except beating them badly, and meanwhile getting a conference win. The Huskers never trailed in this game, and led by as many as 19 points in the second half. The Sooners couldn't close the gap, coming within only 8 points during one stretch in the second half. The score indicated that we could have been seeing another collapse down the stretch, but the feeling was one of a different kind last night. Bodies were hitting the floor for Nebraska, chasing down loose balls and harrassing the Oklahoma backcourt. Like Peter Frampton, Jorge Brian Diaz "came alive" and started to bang down low with the Sooner bigs. Oklahoma couldn't move Diaz out of the paint, and collected only 7 offensive boards for the game. In contrast, Nebraska snagged 24 defensive rebounds, thus limiting the Sooner offense to only one shot per trip. (For you non-basketball guys/gals...this is one of the most overlooked stats by amateurs in all of basketball.) A stat that led to both a nasty loss in Boulder..and this big win in Lincoln. Midway through the second half, Diaz made a statement to "Boomer Sooner" by hammering down a monster tip-dunk off a missed 3 point shot, something that is not only hard to do...but something the fans have been waiting to see out of Diaz.
In addition to out-shooting the Sooners ( 44% to 34%), and limiting their total shots...the stats that don't show up on sheets also played a huge part in squashing the Oklahoma comeback. The floorburn award went to Brandon Richardson, who put his body and skin on the line to chase down loose balls and frustrate the Sooner backcourt. He also led all scorers with 16 points on the night.
Another key factor that you won't see anywhere is timing. It seemed in the last few games that "Bratwurst" was committing fouls and blowing layups exactly when we couldn't afford them. Last night, he was "johnny-on-the-spot", drawing fouls, hitting shots, and hauling down rebounds at precisely the right moments. Although he scored just 8 points, Standhardinger made them all count while adding 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
The Huskers still have a long way to go, and face what will certainly be the toughest stretch they face all season. The next 5 games come against #11 Kansas State, #3 Kansas, #24 Baylor, #6 Texas, and Kansas State again. If you think about it, the Huskers could potentially lose most of the remaining conference games. That is, unless we have found some kind of spark....something that can lead us to wins in a few of these games and shoot us right back into the middle of the pack.
It's a long shot. Hell, it's a trip to the moon. But hey, like my wife said..."when Nebraska makes it to the top ten of the Miss America pageant...you know something is on our side."