I don't know how to write this story. All I want to do is soak in the 53-51 win over Minnesota. And for the fans in attendance, that's all most of them wanted to do as well. In the last men's basketball game to be played in the building, everything went according to script. The building was (almost) sold out and active from the outset, the seniors played key roles in the game, it was competitive nearly wire to wire and the students got one last opportunity to storm the court.
It felt like there was something on the line tonight. The crowd acted like there was. The players played like there was. But in the end, all it was was a nice way to end an era and for Dylan Talley, Brandon Ubel and Andre Almedia, a collegiate career.
The Huskers (14-16, 5-12) led this game from nearly wire to wire, playing with the defensive intensity that was missing in their game vs. the Gophers (20-10, 8-9) in Minneapolis on January 29. The Huskers never allowed the Gophers to get out and take advantage of their athleticism in transition. The Huskers were able to build up a lead as big as nine points in the second half, their biggest lead of the game. The Gophers tried to bring some full court pressure, something they did a lot of in their first meeting and gave the Huskers a lot of trouble, but the Huskers were able figure it out this time and were able to hold off the Gophers down the stretch.
When things got tense in the second half, it was the senior Ubel who took things into his own hands. He scored the Huskers final 10 points, as they captured the two point victory. It was Ubel who was asked to do a little bit of everything in his career at Nebraska who made sure his last game at the Devaney Center would not end in defeat. It was Ubel who embodies so much of what Nebraska fancies itself to be about who made sure there would be a party at mid court.
But this game wasn't about earning a post season berth. There won't be one. It wasn't about cementing a legacy or crowing a champion. This game was about something more difficult to define. With the win, the Huskers achieved several symbolic milestones. Coming into this season, there were virtually no expectations for this team, but in a conference that is widely considered as the best conference basketball, this team that plays essentially five players bettered their 2011-12 record. They bettered their conference record and have all but clinched the #10 seed in next weeks Big Ten tournament.
This game was about confirming a mentality. It was about transitioning to the future. It was about fighting for every point, every game. It was about establishing that things are about to change. The Huskers that have floundered in the lower half of whatever conference they've played in for much of the past 15 years, they're coming. You can be ready for it, or you can let it take you by suprise, but it's coming. Next year everythign will be new. New players, a new arena, a new era. Even coach Miles will still have that new coach smell. And the game vs. Minnesota was a preview of what is in store for Husker fans.
The Huskers still have a couple more games this season before they can get there though, the first of those comes Saturday afternoon as they travel to Iowa to close out the regular season.