Another double-dipper folks. The men and women both play today, so we have two previews below. We'll start with...
The Cornhusker men:
Nebraska travels for the Valentines Day weekend, to Austin. Not what I would call the most romantic destination for a 1-8 basketball team facing it's worst conference season in 48 years. The Huskers dropped a heartbreaker at home versus Baylor, a team that gave us plenty of chances to win. The Bears defense was softer than a Texas brisket, yet the young Cornhuskers couldn't capitalize on open shots to build the first half lead. That was it. Plain and simple. Yes, we blew a chance at the final buzzer, but as the football followers know...the best way to make that critical play at the end, is to make it several times before that. The game is won in the middle, and we just flat-out missed shots when we had 'em.
Texas on the other hand, is not having the type of year they (or "experts") thought they would. After losses to Kansas State and Conneticut, the Longhorns lost their grip on the #1 ranking in the country. A few days later, the wheels started to loosen on the Texas smokewagon. Rick Barnes' team would lose 3 of the next 5 games, including a home loss to both Baylor and Kansas. The orange-bloods looked pretty bad against Iowa State at home as well, so it's not crazy to say the Huskers have an outside chance of upsetting the #14 'Horns.
(more after jump...)
Kansas and Texas were supposed to lead the Big 12 into a hostile takeover of the national rankings. Texas hasn't kept up their end of the deal, and that's no surprise to me. While the Kansas Jayhawks have made critical second-half runs when it counted, the Longhorns haven't done much to stop their bleeding during the big games. Consider the following trouble spots: Haven't been able to find a consistent starting five, poor free throw shooting, scoring droughts, freshman in the back-court, and a 12 point loss to Kansas.
Wait? Are we talking about Rick Barnes and Texas?...or Doc Sadler and Nebraska? Both teams fit that description, which is why I think Nebraska has a chance to get the win on Saturday. During Nebraska's recent matchup with Baylor, ESPN brought us into the locker room at halftime with Coach Sadler. The shots of a guy that really seems to yearn for his kids to succeed, made me a believer in the Sadler system. The nature of Sadlers lecture at pre-game, and at the half, was not one of x's and o's...but one of encouragement in the face of adversity. Although a bit dis-heartening to hear Doc admit to these guys (in so many words) that losing is what people expect from them, the bond Sadler has with these guys is clearly evident. Character, and overcoming adversity were the key points he drove home, and the players have continued to respond well with a positive attitude..despite each succesive loss.
The media, and even Rick Barnes himself have targeted free-throw shooting as the key to the Lonhorns success. I will disagree, while admitting that yes...free-throws are very important. Texas missed on 17 of 25 free throws in the loss to Oklahoma, a team that Nebraska thumped in Lincoln a few weeks ago. If Texas repeats that type of performance from the stripe, they very well might lose another game at home. Nebraska, however, will need convert their own opportunities. getting to the line has been a more successful venture as of late with the help of Lance Jeter. The junior guard, measuring just 6'4", has put his ex-football playing frame to good use by forcing penetration and putting pressure on the defensive big men.
My take on this game comes down to Nebraska's ability to stop Dexter Pittman. The 6' 10" senior center has been under-achieving for Texas this year, but I get the feeling that he is due for a break out performance against Nebraska. Jorge Brian Diaz gives up 60 lbs to Pittman, and that's probably being generous. Diaz will need to use his head and play smart, or he risks becoming Pittmans rag-doll. Another key will be stopping senior Damion James, who comes in at 6' 7" and averages 18ppg.
Nebraska will likely assign Quincy Hankins-Cole to take care of Damion James. If Nebraska holds James to an average performance, and Diaz can keep Pittman off his game, Nebraska will have the advantage. Myles Holley emerged on Wednesday as a high-flying stud, after posterizing Baylor big men on a few occasions. And although he scored just 11 points, he led Nebraska in scoring and brought some new energy to the lineup. Again, the missed 3 pointers, by what is normally a good deep-shooting team, were fatal. The Huskers were 4-21 (19%) from beyond the arc, so imagine what would've happened had we just shot a measly 30%? Brandon Richardson went 1-5, and Bear Jones was just 2-5, so these guys need to step it up. It's not often that a Big 12 defense will give you so many open looks.
We continue to grow up and learn. Building for the future, whether we win or lose. The games are pretty much meaningless right now, but the experience and lessons are vital to the success of this team in 2010-11. Moral victories are okay at this stage in the season in my book. We need the freshman to get the kinks out sometime, may as well be now. Texas will likely throw everything they have at us in an attempt to stay in the top 15, and retain some respect in the Big 12. But there's a chance they'll under-estimate us. We know they have played poorly at home, so today...I'm optimistic.
The Husker women:
Connie Yori really seems to have these ladies in the right place. Both in their heads, and with their play.
After trailing Kansas late in the game, the Lady-Huskers made that mental switch the men have such a hard time with right now. The gas pedal was sufficiently depressed, and with the help of Kelsey Griffin, Yvonne Turner, and Lindsey Moore..the ladies showed us why this could me a magical year.
Again, I am new to the women, and I'm sure others could provide more detailed analysis of the individuals on the roster (Any takers?). But I know a championship caliber basketball team when I see one. This Cornhusker team is right there. When the chips were down at Kansas, they didn't just try to score more points. Instead, they scored points while stepping things up on the defensive end, and everything in between. Teams that can show zero fear down the stretch in close games, tend to be the ones who get the breaks. It wasn't just Yvonne Turner hitting huge 3 pointers to pull us ahead, but it was Kelsey Griffin blocking shots, Lindsey Moore coming up with steals in the backcourt, and Griffin again pulling down 3 straight offensive boards in the final minutes.
That kind of stuff wins championships.
Probably the most convincing part to me, was Coach Yori's response to Kansas leading the Huskers until the end. Yori stated that she wasn't nervous, but excited...mainly because the comeback bid gave her girls a chance to show what they're made of. That's the sign of a confident coach, which means confident players. I'm not sure there is a weak part to this team, but like I said...I'm still pretty new to these gals. I will say one thing though. Kelsey Griffin is the heart and soul of the team. The recent hype over her winning player of the year is well deserved as far as I'm concerned. Has there ever been a womens player with more impact in the history of Nebraska women's hoops?
The ladies take on Missouri today, in Columbia. The 11-12(1-9) Tigers are dead last in the conference this season. Nebraska should have no problem with this one, although it does bring up just another test for the undefeated Huskers. Can they avoid the trap games? The ones where nobody thinks the opposing team can win, except the opposing team? The often-times dangerous games that can tarnish a perfect season? I'm sure Connie Yori has that discussion in mind for the ladies, if she hasn't had it with them already.
The Tigers scored just 33 points in their last game against Kansas State. I think this could get ugly. In fact, I really hope that it does. A funny little side note: A few months back, two Missouri women players were arrested for beating the snot out of a male cheerleader. I just laughed when I read that. I'm pretty sure there is a plethora of jokes in there somwhere. Are these girls tougher than we think? Thugs? Do the male cheerleaders hit the spa, rather than the weight room? The lady-Tigers will get some of that "Valentines Day/girly" image back, while donning all pick jerseys and shoes today - in support of breast cancer awareness. Hey Kelsey, watch out for a flagrant elbow...
Prediction: (Men) The Cornhuskermen pull it out in OT It's a miracle!. Nebraska 77 - Texas 75 (Women) The train keeps on a rollin'. Nebraska 65 - Missouri 40
Tipoff: (M) 3:01pm CST - (W) 1pm CST
Venue: (M) Frank Erwin Center - Austin, TX (W) Mizzou Arena - Columbia, MO
Television: (M) Big 12 Network, ESPN Fullcourt, KLKN - Lincoln, KXVO - Omaha (W) None
Radio: (M) IMG Husker Sports Network (Kent Pavelka and Matt Davison) (W) IMG Husker Sports Radio (98.1-FM in Lincoln, 93.3-FM in Omaha, and 880-AM in Lexington)
Internet radio/stats: www.Huskers.com
Live Game Thread: www.CornNation.com